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What Was the Elections and Voting Process in Ancient Times?

Democracy is the most accepted and widespread form of government in the modern era. The origins of democracy can be traced back to the Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations that emerged thousands of years ago. As a matter of fact, the first examples of elections and voting practices, which are among the most important elements of democracy, can be found in ancient times. Moreover, the first examples of these democratic practices that emerged thousands of years ago still exist today. However, it should be noted that the democratic practices in ancient times were quite different from the current structure. So how were the voting and election processes in ancient civilizations done? Let’s look at the details together…

The concept of democracy emerged thousands of years ago in Ancient Greek civilization.

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The first steps of democracy as we know it today were taken thousands of years ago in Athens, which was the most important city-state, if not the whole of ancient Greek civilization. With this new management approach, which has never been seen in any society before, Ancient Greek citizens implemented the first voting and election practice in history. However, the understanding of democracy at that time was a little different than it is today.

Voting in ancient Greek democracy was a right granted only to men and free citizens.

It was not possible for women and slaves to have a say in democratic processes. This practice continued in the Ancient Roman civilization, where semi-democratic practices were seen after Ancient Greece.

The Assembly of 500s was very important for democratic life in Athens

Each of the 10 major tribes in Athens was represented by 50 members in the assembly. However, in ancient times, the concept of tribe, unlike today, referred to people living in the same geographical region, not people who were related by blood. Who would take office in the 500’s Assembly, the highest governing body of the city, was determined by elections. Every citizen who had the right to vote was throwing the coin-like stones in his hand into a multi-hole stone called a kleroterion. Thanks to the design of the stone, it was possible to elect a completely random assembly with an equal number of members from each tribe…

The cornerstone of democracy in Athens was the parliament called Ekklesia

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The laws in the city were enacted by this assembly according to the voting procedure. Every citizen who had the right to vote could participate in the parliamentary votes. It was also the task of the assembly to appoint important state officials or to take decisions on war and peace.

Athens’ form of government was “direct democracy,” so participation in elections and voting were also done directly.

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Athens had a population of between 30,000 and 60,000 at that time. 6,000 of the city’s citizens regularly participated in parliamentary votes. However, the voting process was different from today’s. Athenians, who wanted to have a say in the administration of the country, had to be physically present at the parliamentary sessions. Assembly meetings were usually held in the amphitheater located on a hill called “Pnyx”. Before the voting, Athenians gathered in this theater to discuss state administration and exchange ideas.

The ancient Greeks also created some control and security mechanisms for democracy to function properly.

The 500’s Assembly determined the agenda items in the assembly, and after the discussions, the voting process was started. Voting was generally done by the “raise of hand” method, as in many parliamentary sessions today. The 9 people responsible for the vote counting were elected by the parliament. Here, the vote counters were randomly chosen shortly before the voting process in order to prevent the 9 people who were in charge of the vote counting from being impartial and manipulated beforehand…

The process of secret voting also appeared for the first time in Ancient Greece

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In democratic Athens, all decisions regarding the state administration were taken by the parliament. However, the assembly had different election and voting practices on different issues. The method of “secret voting”, which is still valid today, also emerged in Athens. Contrary to other ballots, secret balloting was used in parliamentary sessions in the field of criminal and law. A delegation of 200 to 5,000 people voted secretly in these cases…

Each member of the jury was throwing the stone in his hand into a container where no one could see it. Also, during these trials, a random juror was chosen as the judge and served to ensure that the trial proceeded in accordance with the rules and procedure.

People living in ancient times tried hard not to tarnish their democracy, but they did not succeed!

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Athenians, who once started to live under democracy, attached great importance to the democratic structure in order not to be condemned to the cruelty of the tyrants again. For this reason, they established a structure called “Ostrakismos” or “Pottery Courts”. A person who became too powerful in the city and the possibility of tyranny emerged, could be exiled by these courts.

In this event, which was called exclusion, citizens wrote the name of a person who deserved to be exiled on the pottery shards distributed to them. The person whose name was written most on the pottery shards was sent out of Athens for 10 years. But a person’s name had to be written on at least 6,000 pottery shards. Here is one of the events that dealt a blow to Athenian democracy, it happened in the courts of exclusion…

The soldier Themistocles, seen as a hero in Athens in 472 BC, was exiled from the city after a conspiracy by his political rivals. Before the exclusion court, the opponents of Themistocles distributed pottery shards bearing Themistocles’ name to thousands of illiterate citizens and had him exiled.

In antiquity, some democratic practices emerged in Sparta, as well as in Athens.

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However, when compared with Athens, it could be easily seen that the city-state of Sparta was far from a democratic government. However, there were some democratic practices in the city…

Voting in Sparta was by applause

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The Council of Elders, Sparta’s highest governing body, consisted of two Spartan kings and 28 people over the age of 60 who were members of the council during their lifetime. When one of the members died, the new member to join the council was determined by election. A very interesting method was determined for this…

Candidates competing for the vacant seat on the council entered a hall full of their supporters, while those in the hall supported their candidates with applause. The jury members, who were in a secret section near the hall and could not see the hall, decided which candidate got the most applause, thus the new member of the council was elected…

Election and voting were also an important part of democracy in the Roman Republic.

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But democracy in Rome was shaped by the interests of the privileged classes. For example, in Ancient Rome, there were 3 different assemblies where different issues were discussed and decided. However, although they represented a smaller group in these assemblies and were fewer in number, the suffrage of the rich and noble class was even more valuable than that of the remaining large groups.

Moreover, the priority of voting in these assemblies also belonged to the noble class. For this reason, in parliamentary votes, laws desired by the nobility were passed, often without the need for other citizens to vote.

Power groups that wanted to influence the elections in the Roman Republic caused the voting pattern to change.

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Just like in Athens, the voting system in Rome emerged in the form of open voting. However, over time, power centers emerged that wanted to interfere in the elections. Because of this, the voting system in Rome also changed. The Romans used the secret ballot method in the later stages of their democracy…

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