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 1960s (see integration). 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 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).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.