In ancient Greek democracies (e.g., Athens) public officials were occasionally elected but more often were chosen by lot. In Rome the popular assemblies elected the tribunes. In the Middle Ages elections were abandoned, except for such processes as elections to the papacy and, in a more limited sense, of the Holy Roman emperor by a small and partly hereditary body of electors.
In the modern period, elections have been inseparable from the growth of democratic forms of government. Elections were associated with the parliamentary process in England from the 13th cent. and were gradually regularized by acts prescribing the frequency of elections (the Triennial Act of 1694, and the Septennial Act of 1716), by successive reform bills widening the franchise in the 19th cent., and by the adoption of the secret ballot in 1872.
Sections in this article:
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.