Electoral System

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Electoral System


(1) A system of forming elected (above all, representative) bodies of the state (for example, in the USSR, the Soviets of working people’s deputies). The electoral system is an important element in the political system of a state. It is regulated by legal norms that, taken as a whole, form electoral law and the electoral right.

The electoral system includes two elements: the principles and conditions of participation in the formation of elective bodies, and the organization and procedure for elections (the electoral process) and for the recall of those elected. In determining the conditions for citizen participation in the formation of elective state bodies, the electoral systems of the socialist countries proceed from the principles of universality and equality. Thus, in the USSR, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Mongolia, Yugoslavia, Rumania, and the German Democratic Republic, all mentally competent citizens who have reached a certain age may take part in elections. In some socialist countries, provisions are made for the deprivation of voting rights through the courts (for example, in Poland and Hungary). The age qualification is low in socialist countries: people 18 years of age are granted voting rights. The age qualification for the right to be elected to a representative body is 21–23 years in several of the countries; in Rumania, Czechoslovakia, and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam this age limit applies to elections to all representative bodies, whereas in the USSR, Poland, and the German Democratic Republic it applies only in elections to the highest representative bodies. Voters participate in elections on an equal basis: they have one vote each in elections to each representative body (chamber), and every vote influences the results of the elections equally.

The electoral systems of the bourgeois countries are formally based on the principles of universality and equality, but these principles are frequently restricted by various electoral qualifications. In the USA, for example, where dozens of such qualifications operate, approximately 20 million people are deprived of the vote. Equality of the citizens’ electoral rights in capitalist countries is violated by unequal representation for various groups of the population (usually by granting unlawful advantages to sparsely settled and politically backward rural areas), by virtue of setting up the so-called plural vote, and by establishment of a system of determining the winner that gives an advantage to the major bourgeois parties.

Elections may be direct, in which case the citizens vote directly for deputies to the representative body, or indirect (by several stages), in which the deputies to the representative body are elected by subordinate elected bodies or electoral colleges that may be made up either of electors elected by the population, or deputies of subordinate representative bodies, or both. As a rule, direct elections are established in the socialist countries; the majority of the chambers of supreme representative bodies in Yugoslavia and the regional and metropolitan councils in Hungary are formed through indirect elections. In the bourgeois countries, in the context of party rivalry, indirect elections distort the will of the voters in favor of the strong bourgeois parties.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the legislation of socialist countries governing elections to state bodies provides for secret voting, which guarantees the voters free expression of their will.

In contrast to the electoral systems of most bourgeois states, which are founded on the principle of the so-called free mandate (the independence of the deputy from the voters), socialist electoral systems proceed from the principle of the imperative mandate, under which the deputy is bound by the mandates of the voters and is responsible to them in all of his or her activity. Correspondingly, the right to recall deputies who have not justified the confidence of the voters is lacking in bourgeois states.

In socialist states the right to recall deputies is one of the most important elements of the electoral system. In the USSR, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, it is exercised through open voting at assemblies of voters, whereas in Poland, Rumania, and Yugoslavia, recall is by the same procedure as the elections; in the German Democratic Republic, recall is carried out by the representative body itself, on the initiative of the voters.

The electoral process includes setting the date of elections (as a rule, this is the prerogative of the head of state), registering voters according to the procedures established by law, and organizing electoral districts, regions, or whatever. These units are formed in accordance with the principles of representation (such as territorial, national, or production-unit bases). Electoral precincts and polling places are also established.

In order to ensure the equality of electoral rights, the electoral units for elections to a particular representative body (or particular chamber) must be formed on the basis of one common norm of representation (the number of residents or voters represented by one deputy)—a rule that is frequently violated in capitalist states.

The nomination of candidates is one of the basic stages of the electoral process. In the socialist countries, it is carried out, as a rule, by political parties, the public organizations of workers, and bodies of the working people. Prior to the registration of candidates, there is usually a process of agreement on the candidacies within the electoral unit, so that candidates who genuinely enjoy the support and confidence of the working people may be registered. In practice, one candidate is registered for each deputy’s seat in the USSR and certain other socialist countries. In Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the number of candidates registered generally exceeds the number of seats in the representative bodies. In the capitalist countries, candidates are usually nominated only by the political parties; the nomination of candidates by small parties is sometimes hampered, for example, by requiring the payment of security.

The results of elections depend on the system of distributing mandates that is employed in the country. In socialist countries, an absolute majority of valid votes is usually required for election. The validity of elections is established in socialist countries by the representative bodies themselves (in bourgeois states, this is often referred to the competence of specially appointed election courts or handled in other ways).

Socialist electoral systems facilitate in every way possible the development of the political activity of the voters. The organization of voting ensures maximum convenience for the voters: voting is set for nonworking days, long hours are established for voting (12–18 hours), the procedure for filling in ballots is simple, and so on. All expenditures for the conduct of elections are paid by the state.

(2) The system of allocating seats in elective bodies after the establishment of the results of the voting. Two basic electoral systems are encountered: the majoritarian system (under which the winner is the candidate receiving a majority or plurality of votes cast) and the system of proportional representation.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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