From History books/encyclopaedias : All about vote, secret ballot and elections, Voting day is a Festival of democracy

Elections in a democracy are not only a reiteration of the powers vested in every eligible voter to choose the government he or she wants but is also a celebration time marking the poll day as a peoples’ festival.

How elections have changed over the years makes an interesting study.

Votes/Elections in India

Elections are nothing new. Even in ancient times, there are references to elections and voting by eligible male adults to choose their leaders or aldermen. The Election Commission of India in one of its publications while tracing history of elections in the country, refers to 4th Century BC Republican Federation known as KSUDRAK MALLA SANGHA that offered strong resistance to the Alexander the Great.

Ancient India believed every adult male member had a right to vote.

*Vote was known as “CHHANDA” which inter alia meant a “wish” by voting his free wish and choice.

*There used to be multicolored voting tickets called “Shalakas” (pins) which were distributed to members and collected by officials appointed by the State called “Shalaka Grahaks”.

 First elections in India after Independence

First elections in Independent India were held in 1951-52 that lasted more than four months.

*There were 173 million voters. At that time organizing elections was a stupendous task.

*House to house survey was conducted to enlist voters as 70 per cent people were illiterate.

*Candidates were given symbols that were painted on ballot boxes Voters were required to put their votes in the boxes of their chosen candidates.

*2,24,000 polling booths were set up.

*212 million ballot boxes were used.

*Nearly 6,20,000,000 ballot papers were printed.

*One million officials were on election duty.

*14 national and 63 regional parties besides Independents were in the fray.

*There were 488 Lok Sabha 3283 assembly seats for which voting was held.

*98 of Lok Sabha and 669 of Assembly seats were reserved for SC/ST candidates.

*17,500 candidates were in the contest.

*Elections started on October 25 and ended on February 21, 1952.

*Jawahar Lal Nehru during his election campaign travelled 40,000 km and addressed 35 million people, almost 1/10th of the total population.

Since then, the election process has witnessed revolutionary changes. Printed ballot papers have now limited use as only those who opt for postal ballot see or use them. Electronic voting machines have changed the polling process making it faster and tamper proof.

Polling day has always been a day to relax and rejoice. Dressed in their best costumes, the voters queue up outside polling stations, waiting for their turn to exercise franchise, deciding by a secret ballot the candidate or a party they want to take control of political administration of their state or the nation. 

Historically, vote comes from the word Vow “solemn promise,” 

from Anglo-French and Old French voe (Modern French vœu), 

from Latin votum “a promise to a god, solemn pledge, dedication; that promises; a wish, desire, longing, prayer,” 

noun use of neuter of votus,

past participle of vovere “to promise solemnly, pledge, dedicate, vow,” 

from PIE root *wegwh- “to speak solemnly, vow, preach” (source also of Sanskrit vaghat- “one who offers a sacrifice;” 

Greek eukhe “vow, wish,” eukhomai (“I pray”). Meaning “solemn engagement to devote oneself to a religious order or life” is from 1400 century; earlier “to bind oneself” to chastity (early 14 century.). mid-15centry, “formal expression of one’s wish or choice with regard to a proposal, candidate, etc.,” 

 The means used to exercise franchise is a ballot.

Ballot comes from the Italian word Ballota which means small ball in reference to gold and silver balls used to cast a vote in medieval Venice

Psephology is the study of elections coming from the word pshephos, the Greek word used to call a vote in the ancient times

While Pshephos or vote as pebbles were used to cast votes in ancient Greece, in some other places small coloured balls or marked balls were used to cast votes.

In India (Tamil Nadu) palm leaves were used as ballot papers and put to ballot boxes and the process was called Kodavolai.

Used since 1540s, ballot means  “small ball used in voting,” also “secret vote taken by ballots,” from Italian pallotte, diminutive of palla “ball,” for small balls used as counters in secret voting. Earliest references are to Venice. By 1776 extended to tickets or sheets of paper used in secret voting. Ballot box  origin is believed to be  from 1670s; metonymically from 1834 as “system or practice of voting by ballot” came into existence.

Also Psephocracy is a  “government formed by election by ballot.” It comes from Greek psēphizein “to vote” (properly “to vote with pebbles”), from psēphos “pebble, small stone,” especially as used for counting and calculating (a word of uncertain origin, perhaps related to psammos “sand”) votes.

The common method of voting in Greek cities was by dropping pebbles in different marked urns, and thus the word for “pebble” figures largely in the ancient Greek vocabulary of democracy (e.g. isopsēphos “having an equal vote”).” 

Among the regular methods of voting are:

Voice vote

Rising vote

Show of hands

Signed ballot

Repeated balloting

Preferential voting

Cumulative voting, and

Run offs

Initially, votes were the prerogative of only eligible adult males. It was New Zealand that became the first nation to give voting rights to women in 1893 followed by Canada in 1917, USA in 1920, UK in 1928, France in 1944 and India in 1950. and The Soviet Union  held its first election in 1990 while the first multiracial election in  South Africa was conducted in 1994.

USA established electoral college in 1798. It is the college and not people elect the US President Incidentally, USA was the first to have a written Constitution while Poland 1791 and France 1791 followed. Secrecy of voting was first introduced in Constitution of France in 1795

Rule of Secret ballot was introduced no earlier than 1856 in Southern Australia – Tasmania. So, it is why it called Australian ballot. NZ followed in 1870 Switzerland and GB in 1872 Canada in 1874 Belgium in 1876 Norway in 1884 USA in 1888 Denmark in 1901 France in 1994 Poland in 1918 and Turkey in 1950.

Compiled by Prabhjot Singh*.

* Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered  Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows. For more in-depth analysis please visit  or follow him on