"" Writer's Wanderings: Voting in Ancient Greece

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Voting in Ancient Greece

While my posts about our visit to Athens will not appear for a couple of weeks yet, I wanted to share what we found in a museum in Athens in the ancient Agora. While our guide insisted that the Greeks were the first to use the vote for government, I'm sure that over the ages there was a system of selection for leaders that could be defined as voting. But I did think that their take on how to weed out political leaders in the ancient times was interesting.

Here's what the sign in the picture says:

Ostracism was a unique type of voting intended as a means of protecting the city against aspirants to despotic power. The result of the ostracism vote was valid only if there was a quorum of 6000 present. Each voter scratched or painted on a potsherd the name of the man he thought most undesirable. The "candidate" with the greatest number of votes against him was obliged to withdraw from Athens for ten years. Ostracism was decreed by Kleisthenes and was used through most of the 5th century B.C. In many cases it came to be used as a tactical manoeuvre between rival politicians.

That last line says it all. No matter what the system, politicians are politicians and will find a way around. Still, the freedom to vote, to have a choice in the system is precious. Don't forget to exercise that freedom on Tuesday.

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