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voting, method of registering collective approval or disapproval of a person or a proposal. The term generally refers to the process by which citizens choose candidates for public office or decide political questions submitted to them. However, it may also describe the formal recording of opinion of a group on any subject. In either sense it is a means of transforming numerous individual desires into a coherent and collective basis for decision.

In early human history voting was simply the communication of approval or disapproval by tribal members of certain proposals offered by a chieftain, who typically held an elected office. Eventually in political voting, the ballot came into use, a sophisticated form of which is the voting machine. In modern democracies voting is generally considered the right of all adult citizens. In the past, however, voting was often a privilege limited by stringent property qualifications and restricted to the upper classes, and it is only in recent times that universal suffrage has become a fact. In the United States this was accomplished in 1920 when women were given the right to vote by the Nineteenth Amendment, but many African Americans in the South continued to be denied voting rights into the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (see integration). The Act was renewed and amended five times through 2006, but has since been significantly watered down by the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which eliminated the need for states and localities with historically restrictive voting laws to get preclearance from the Federal government before implementing new election rules. Congress has failed to enact a new law to address this decision, and more restrictive voting laws have been enacted in many states following the 2020 election campaign which led President Donald Trump to repeatedly levy charges of voter fraud and other irregularities in the electoral process. While in democracies voting is, generally, a voluntary right, in totalitarian systems it is virtually a compulsory duty, and nonvoting may be considered an act of disapproval of government policies.

In recent years a great deal of study has been devoted to the analysis of voting behavior in nonauthoritarian nations. Through the use of complex sampling surveys attempts have been made to determine on what basis a voter makes a decision. Findings reveal that voting is influenced not only by political differences but also by religious, racial, and economic factors. For this reason nearly all politicians rely on a sampling survey, or poll, to gauge the attitudes of their constituencies. Also a subject for considerable study in the United States is that large segment of the population that refrains from voting. Research has shown that nonvoting is caused by factors that include social cross pressures, new residency in the community, and relative political ignorance or lack of interest.

See also election; referendum.


See G. Almond and S. Verba, The Civic Culture (1963); A. Campbell et al., The American Voter (1960); R. Lane, Political Life (1959); L. Milbraith, Political Participation (1965); R. Farquharson, The Theory of Voting (1969); F. Greenstein, The American Party System and the American People (2d ed. 1970).

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



the right to participate in elections as well as in all other political undertakings aimed at ascertaining the will of the electorate (referenda, plebiscites, recalls, people’s initiatives). The right to vote is granted, as a rule, only to those citizens (subjects) who meet the age, residence, and other legal requirements. In socialist countries the sole requirements for voting are full majority (age 18 in the USSR) and soundness of mind, which permit all adult citizens to participate in elections, vote in referenda, and so forth. To be legally eligible to vote, a citizen must be entered by a competent organ in a voters’ register.

Exercising the right to vote is a matter of civic conscience for the elector. The law of socialist countries has no means for compelling citizens to exercise their voting right. By contrast, the constitutions of many bourgeois countries—Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Peru, and others—stipulate compulsory voting. In those countries refusal to participate in elections is considered an offense against the law and entails specific sanctions.

In the early stages of development of the bourgeois state system, the right to vote was granted only to literate males who possessed a specific amount of property. Thus, the group of citizens eligible to vote in elections was determined by means of property, culture (literacy and education), and sex qualifications. In the 20th century, especially after World War II, the pressure of the masses led to a substantial democratization of the conditions for voting eligibility. Property qualifications were abolished everywhere, and the use of literacy and educational qualifications were sharply curtailed. (The latter was preserved only in Iran, Thailand, and some Latin American countries.) Women were given the right to vote in almost all countries, except Switzerland, Spain, Paraguay, and Jordan. The states which have recently won their independence have not adopted the voting restrictions that exist in the laws of bourgeois states but, as a rule, have introduced universal suffrage. Present-day bourgeois states maintain a high age qualification for voting, ranging from 20 to 25 (most frequently 21). A number of bourgeois states also have residence qualifications.


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