Electoral System | Definition, Features and Types

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Electoral System | Definition, Features and Types

The electoral system is central to the development and sustenance of democracy and democratic institutions in the state. Without a good electoral system, the people will ultimately lose confidence in the political system and its capacity to generate and process demand from the environment.

This partly explains the interests which political scientists and politicians have in the electoral system.

The Electoral System
The Electoral System

What is an Electoral System?

An electoral system itself refers to those laws, procedures, methods and institutional framework that guide the selection or election of public office holders and legislators in the state. It deals with the conduct of election of public office holders.

This assertion is, to a large extent, correct as an election is, probably, the most reliable means through which both the government and representatives can be made responsible to the people who elected them.

Moreover, it is practically impossible to operate a system of direct representation (direct democracy) in a large modern state. It is therefore important that the people should choose a few individuals who will represent their interests in the legislature and in government. Thus, the electoral principal is the most popular system of me quitting political leaders in modern country.

Notwithstanding, public office holders are sometimes nominated and not elected. The membership of the House of Lords in Britain, for example, is dominated by hereditary peers who are appointed from the royal house. That is, presentation in the house is primarily based on nominations rather than election.

Representation based on nomination is usually criticized as undemocratic since the people do not have a say in the selection of their representatives. Says they are not elected by the electorate, they cannot be held accountable to the people. Election therefore remains the most acceptable and popular method of choosing a political leaders in modern country.

Features Of Electoral System

  1. Independence Body: An independent and impartial electoral body should be in place.
  2. Constant and Periodic Elections: There should be regular or periodic elections as stipulated in the constitution. This will help to eliminate any president or leaders who intends to perpetuate themselves in power.
  3. Constituencies: It is important for the delimitation of the country into constituencies.
  4. Universal Adult Suffrage: Qualified adult citizens should exercise their right of voting.
  5. Voting Should Be Conducted: Without fear of molestation, intimidation and victimization.
  6. Every Interest Group In The Society: All interest groups in the society should be represented in the legislature.
  7. Periodic Public Display of Voters Lists: Periodoc and regular review of voters register.
  8. Independent Judiciary: The judicial arm of government should be independent and impartial and should be capable of handling election cases and petitions.
  9. Counting of Votes: This should be made public and with immediate release of results.
  10. Nomination of Candidates: This should be done in a way that it will appeal to the generality of the people.
  11. Secret Ballot: This secrecy method of election should be adopted.
  12. Political Education: The people should be properly educated about their rights, elections and the political system of their country.
  13. Materials for Election: Materials for election, e.g. ballot boxes, ballot papers, ink pad, polling booths etc should be provided.

Types of Electoral System

Electoral systems vary widely in their rules but they may be divided into two major types according to how the number of votes cast is related to the number of legislators. The types of electoral system are listed below with explanation and examples.

1. Single Member Constituencies and Single Vote

This system is usually referred to as “first-past-the-post” or “simple majority system”.  A candidate must has the highest number of votes cast to win the election. Britain, USA, Canada and Nigeria are examples of countries using this system.

2. Single Member and Second Ballot

Failure of any candidate to receive absolute majority at the first ballot, the second one is held with the weaker candidates either choosing or be required to retire. Example of country using this type of electoral system is France.

3. Single Member with Preferential Vote

This system allows the electorate to place the candidate in order of preference. The votes of the wicker candidates being distributed to the stronger ones, according to second, third etc.

4. Proportional Representation

The essence of proportional representation is to allocate seats in proportion to the votes cast in multi-member constituencies. It is a method used to elect representatives into the legislature. The total number of votes which a party or group score is calculated in proportion to the total number of vote casts.  There are two types of proportional representation. They are “the List System” and “Single Transferable Vote System“.

  • In the List System, the electorate votes for a list of candidates presented by political party and his party wins the number of seats in that constituency according to the votes cast for the party list.
  • In Single Transferable Vote System, the candidates in multi-member constituencies are marked in order of preference by the voters. After counting the votes, an electoral quota is established, i.e. the minimum number of votes needed by a candidate to win one of the seats, the surplus votes are redistributed to other candidates according to the voters order of preference. The weakest candidates are then eliminated and their votes are redistributed according to the voters choices.
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