An election is a kind of vote.

A referendum is a vote, but is not an election.

Therefore we infer not all votes are elections.

What are the essential characteristics of an election then?

Does an election necessarily involve selection?

For example: the European Commission is voted for (or against) by the European Parliament.

This could be said to be an election, but there is no selection element. No alternatives (other than rejection) are proposed. It is certainly a vote. Is this kind of vote an election?

  • In what country can a parliament select individual ministers? (Ok, maybe in the US, but even there the Senate doesn't get to select, just gets to vote for or against POTUS' nominees, albeit individually rather than as a group.) Dec 10, 2020 at 18:15
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    It's not that it is en masse. It's that there are no proposed alternatives (other than outright rejection).
    – 52d6c6af
    Dec 10, 2020 at 18:16
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    No idea. I am exploring the meaning of the word election.
    – 52d6c6af
    Dec 10, 2020 at 18:17
  • 1
    No, I'm not. Not at all. I merely use it as an example with which I am familiar.
    – 52d6c6af
    Dec 10, 2020 at 18:18
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    I'm not taking issue with anything. The question was spurred by reference 8 on this Wikipedia page. "...and elected by the European Parliament."
    – 52d6c6af
    Dec 10, 2020 at 18:25

2 Answers 2


Britannica defines

Election, the formal process of selecting a person for public office or of accepting or rejecting a political proposition by voting.

I'm guessing there are other definitions.

Yes, the word "election" used to confirm or reject a government is probably somewhat unusual, especially if you come from a US background, where the Senate "confirms" the nominees for various executive agencies posts.

A much more common term for the process of yea/nay the whole government is a "vote of [no] confidence". This vote may or may not be solely on that issue, i.e. a yea/nay on a piece of specific legislation can imply to such a vote on the government, depending on constitutional arrangements/details.

Parliamentary procedures that outright swap a government for another (explicitly nominated counter-candidate) exist under the moniker "constructive vote of no confidence", but are used in fewer countries.

And, yeah, the EU really does use the word "elect" for the vote to confirm the Commission. Well, on that page. On another it says the EP "votes into office" the Commission. I guess one would have look up the relevant Treaty article for the most official wording... which is Article 17(7) of TFEU... which does use the term "elect[ed]" for that particular vote when it comes to the President of the Commission, but uses "vote of consent" for the vote on the whole Commission!

Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure. [...]

The President, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the other members of the Commission shall be subject as a body to a vote of consent by the European Parliament. On the basis of this consent the Commission shall be appointed by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority.

Somewhat of an side, but the US Supreme Court weighted in on the matter of the meaning of a vote in the absence of liberty to choose (in the matter of state laws dismissing or punishing "faithless electors")... The interesting bits regarding the interpretation of plain words in SCOTUS decision are these:

Suppose a person always votes in the way his spouse, or pastor, or union tells him to. We might question his judgment, but we would have no problem saying that he “votes” or fills in a “ballot.” In those cases, the choice is in someone else’s hands, but the words still apply because they can signify a mechanical act. Or similarly, suppose in a system allowing proxy voting (a common practice in the founding era), the proxy acts on clear instructions from the principal, with no freedom of choice. Still, we might well say that he cast a “ballot” or “voted,” though the preference registered was not his own. For that matter, some elections give the voter no real choice because there is only one name on a ballot (consider an old Soviet election, or even a downballot race in this country). Yet if the person in the voting booth goes through the motions, we consider him to have voted. The point of all these examples is to show that although voting and discretion are usually combined, voting is still voting when discretion departs. Maybe most telling, switch from hypotheticals to the members of the Electoral College. For centuries now, as we’ll later show, almost all have considered themselves bound to vote for their party’s (and the state voters’) preference.

(Justice Thomas disagreed with this portion of the majority decision but otherwise concurred with the overall SCOTUS decision by means of the Tenth Amendment.)


An election is generally defined as a group decision-making process in which individuals are selected to hold public office. So, not all votes are elections, but all elections will necessarily involve some selection of individuals. In a general sense, elect means simply to select or choose, so you may see any ballot or referendum referred to as an "election", but since they don't always involve choosing a person for office, it's arguably better to refer to them as simply "votes" rather than "elections".

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