Why is voting characterized as a privilege

Options / optional functions

1. Concept of choice

According to its technical function, Wahl (W) is a means of forming corporations or of appointing a person to an office. However, this functional determination does not distinguish the W. from other appointment techniques, which - unlike the violent methods of gaining power such as struggle, coup or war - can also be based on agreement: appointment according to birthright, on the basis of official position (ex officio), by drawing lots Appointment and acclamation. In terms of process technology, votes are cast individually at W. by a well-defined electorate (in the sense of those entitled to vote); the votes are counted and transferred to mandates by means of a previously defined decision-making standard and, if necessary, with the aid of a specific accounting process (→ voting systems). In terms of content, those entitled to vote are given the opportunity to freely choose between several or at least two offers. For competitive companies, choice and freedom of choice are essential. If they are not given, it is a question of non-competitive companies that are only similar in terms of process technology. In competitive companies, procedural and content-related optional terms merge into one unit. It is expanded to include specific aspects of democracy theory and the rule of law. This gives rise to a canon of formalized principles that are not only constitutive for the W. procedure in modern constitutional states, but also represent the essential prerequisite for the recognition of the factual and personnel decisions brought about by the W. procedure on the part of the constituent voters. These formalized principles include:
  • The election proposal, which cannot be separated from the W. itself and is therefore subject to the same standards (freedom of election application), which of course cannot replace the positive selection decision of the electorate.
  • The candidate competition, behind which primarily a competition of alternative political opinions and programs hides.
  • Equal opportunities, which flow from the legal principle of equality and must be ensured especially in the area of ​​the election application (candidacy and → election campaign), but which also applies as a criterion for the → right to vote.
  • The freedom of choice, which is linked to the postulate of the secret W. and is guaranteed by the secret voting.
  • The electoral process (the process of voting itself), which actually leaves the voting decision to the vote of the voters by means of a voting process, a decision-making standard and a vote settlement process (→ electoral systems).
  • Finally, the temporary decision, which means that the voting decision can be revoked and the choice and freedom of choice of those entitled to vote in future people is not restricted by decisions made earlier.
Of course, this canon is about normative features of a liberal-pluralistic conception of democracy. It must also be examined in representative democracies whether, for example, the competitive nature of countries and the real equality of opportunity of competing political basic positions do justice to these postulates. In particular, the question of the political and social content of formalized competitive companies arises.

2. Functions of options

Competitive companies can fulfill a multitude of functions. There are primarily three conditions that differ from one another in Western democracies and produce differences in the manifest elective functions: structure of society, structure of the political-institutional system, structure of the → party system. Depending on the characteristics of these social, political-institutional and party-political variables, people can exercise the following functions:
  • Legitimization of the → political system and the government of a party or coalition of parties.
  • Transfer of trust to persons and parties.
  • Recruiting the political elite.
  • Representation of the opinions and interests of the electorate.
  • Linking the political institutions with the preferences of the electorate.
  • Mobilization of the electorate for social values, political goals and programs, party political interests.
  • Raising the political awareness of the population by clarifying the political problems and alternatives.
  • Channeling political conflicts into procedures for their peaceful settlement.
  • Integration of social pluralism and formation of a politically active common will.
  • Bringing about a competitive struggle for political power on the basis of alternative factual programs.
  • Bringing about a decision on governance in the form of parliamentary majorities.
  • Establishment of a controllable opposition.
  • Keeping the change of power ready.
Whether these possible functions of the W. are actually fulfilled (and if so, to what extent and with what result for political development) is often made dependent in the public and also in academia on the current electoral system, for example in the form that Alternating in the exercise of government to the requirement of party majority formation, a two-party system and ultimately the relative majority election in single-constituencies. Empirically, however, it has been shown that certain elective functions are fulfilled or not fulfilled completely independently of the electoral system. On the other hand, the material-political functions of the parties are largely neglected because the → parties, especially the people's parties, tend not to make socially and politically important problems the subject of the electoral controversy, and consequently not to work out alternatives and thus in the party to carry out only mock battles by "organizations that are in limited, formalized competition" (J. Raschke). The postulate of objective alternatives is of course opposed to the vague constellation of interests of the electorate, which can hardly be reduced to a few programmatic alternatives. Responding to the demand for concrete alternative drafts for future policy is also problematic for the parties due to other issues, for example due to the scope and importance of the swap voters for the election outcome, or due to the diversity e.g. Partly organized particular interests, which can be summed up more easily to a blocking rather than a reform majority, or because of the limited scope of politics.

3. Elections as a form of political participation

Casting the vote at W.en is the most general form of political participation by citizens in representative → democracy. Other forms of political participation, such as party membership and participation in election campaigns in the form of participation or candidacy in the competing parties, are oriented towards them. Political participation is not limited to the activities related to the electoral process, which are referred to as conventional forms of → political participation. The so-called unconventional participation behavior in the form of → strikes, → demonstrations, → citizens' initiatives, participation in civil society organizations etc. has even gained increasing importance in the last few decades. However, there are some theoretical, practical and sociological aspects that speak in favor of the prominent importance of women in pluralistic democracy.

a) They form the basis of the liberal understanding of democracy, according to which the political leadership of a country must periodically emerge from general ideas. This understanding thrives on the close definitional connection between democracy and W.en: without the periodic election or deselection of government personnel, without the open competition of political parties for political power, there is no democracy. The political participation of the citizens taking place in W.en is therefore essential for Western democracies. Many authors therefore see high voter turnout as an important indicator of the legitimacy of the political system.

b) We are the only successful method to date in the so-called mass democracies - i.e. over a larger territorial area and a larger number of active citizens - to aggregate diverse individual interests and political opinions in such a way that political → elites (governments) bind the general public be able to make political decisions.

c) For the bulk of the population, they are the only form of participation in the political process. All other forms of participation, be they conventional or unconventional, are associated with significantly higher costs and tend to increase political → inequality among citizens. All empirical studies indicate that the participation behavior of citizens depends to a large extent on their socio-economic status. The upper classes of the population are more interested in participating and take greater opportunities to participate through expanded participation channels than the lower classes of the population. This sociological issue makes it easier for those already socially privileged to assert their interests more effectively. In contrast, as F. Scharpf (1975: 45) once put it, "the handicap of the lower socio-economic classes (in the case of W.en) is much lower than in the case of more complex forms of active participation".

From this participation-skeptical view, the conclusion can be drawn that the population's increased interest in participation is less likely to be satisfied by new forms of political participation than by improving opportunities for participation in the form of participation, which is characterized by "universality of access, [... ] Equality of influence [...] as well as secrecy and lack of accountability of the act of participation "distinguishes itself from all other forms of participation (Rokkan / Svasand 1978: 30), specifically through the more influence of the voter on the political selection and decision-making processes. This line of argument points to the importance of political parties; it stands or falls with the consideration of the values ​​and interests of the elector on the part of the political elite. In the event of an obvious → change in values ​​and interests of large parts of the population, it is of great importance for the legitimation of the political system by means of how the demands for new policies can become a matter for governments through the existing and practiced channels of participation.


Nohlen, Dieter 62009: suffrage and party system. Opladen.

Rokkan, Stein / Svasand, Lars 1978: On the sociology of elections and mass politics, in: König, René (ed.): Handbook of empirical social research. Vol. 12. Stuttgart.

Scharpf, Fritz W. 1975: Theory of democracy between utopia and adaptation. Kronberg / Ts.

Schreiber, Wolfgang 72002: Handbook of the right to vote in the German Bundestag. Cologne et al.

Source: Andersen, Uwe / Wichard Woyke (ed.): Concise dictionary of the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany. 7th, updated Aufl. Heidelberg: Springer VS 2013. Author of the article: Dieter Nohlen