Elections the Roman Way
With the upcoming election in November, elections are on many of our minds. While most JCLers are not old enough to vote, I hope many are interested in electoral procedure. Part of the reason I wanted to be OJCL Parliamentarian is because I have always been fascinated by governments and elections. However, the OJCL does not need to talk about the current election. As JCLers, let’s look at more interesting elections: Roman elections!
Where did people vote?
Voting occurred at the Campus Martius, or Field of Mars, which was mainly used as a military training camp. People walked through an enclosure called the Saepta (which, understandably, means enclosure). The Saepta had 35 sections for different tribes to cast their votes and could hold 70,000 people. Alternatively, some elections were held in the forum.
Natural-born free Roman men could vote. Historians think that at its peak, 910,000 men qualified to vote in a Roman election, though it is unlikely that many fit in the Saepta.
Who voted? Natural-born free Roman men could vote. Historians think that at its peak, 910,000 men qualified to vote in a Roman election, though it is unlikely that many fit in the Saepta.
Who ran for office? Throughout most of the Roman Republic, public offices were dominated by the wealthy elite, often members of the same families. This was in part due to the money spent on campaigning and the familiarity of wealthy families. Candidates were also required to have served 10 years in the military. Originally, the Centuriate Assembly elected the higher ranking officials, and the Centuriate Assembly members were wealthy Patricians. Since the wealthy elected higher offices, wealthy candidates typically ran for office.
How did candidates campaign? Some candidates attracted voters by offering food and drinks in bowls inscribed with their name. (This is similar to the OJCL campaign method of giving candy with your name on it to JCLers before the election.) The most common form of campaigning was canvassing in the Roman Forum, through shaking hands, giving speeches, and often giving gifts as an enticement for people to vote in their favor. Candidates wore a bright white toga called the Toga Candida, the root of the English word “candidate.”
Secret ballots: In 139 B.C.E., the Lex Gabinia Tabellaria introduced the concept of a secret ballot, which was developed through three other laws in the following years. With this process, voters wrote the initials of the candidate they chose on a small wax tablet and placed it in the cista (box). To ensure as fair of an election as possible, there were guards watching each box. This system made elections far more accessible to common people and relieved the pressure to vote for certain candidates.