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A general election is an election in which all or most members of a given political body are chosen. The term is usually used to refer to elections held for a nation's primary legislative body, as distinguished from by-elections and local elections.
In presidential systems, the term refers to a regularly scheduled election where both the president, and either "a class" of or all members of the national legislature are elected at the same time but sometimes refers to special elections held to fill prematurely vacated positions. A general election day may also include elections for local officials.
The elections held to elect the members of the Lok Sabha after expiry of the normal term of five years are called the General Elections. Elections to some State Legislative Assemblies may be held along with the Parliamentary Elections. Earlier up to 1957 simultaneous elections were held for both the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies. However, on account of early dismissal and mid-term elections the two got separated.
The term general election in the United Kingdom often refers to the elections held on the same day in all constituencies of their Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons. Under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, the period between one general election and the next is fixed at 5 years, unless the Commons passes a motion of no confidence in the Government sooner than that, or if the House of Commons, with the support of at least two thirds of its members, resolves that a general election should take place sooner.
The term may also be used to refer to elections to any democratically elected body in which all of the members are up for election. Section 2 of the Scotland Act 1998, for example, specifically refers to ordinary elections to the Scottish Parliament as general elections.
Originally, British elections took place over a period of several weeks, with individual constituencies holding polling on separate days. The Parliament Act 1911 introduced the requirement that elections in all parliamentary constituencies be held on the same day. There has been a convention since the 1930s that general elections in Britain should take place on a Thursday; the last general election to take place on any other weekday was that of 1931.
The five-year limit on the time of a Parliament can be varied by an Act of Parliament implemented by several bodies. This was done during both World Wars; the Parliament elected in December 1910 was prolonged to November 1918, and that elected in November 1935 lasted until June 1945. The House of Lords has an absolute veto on any Bill to extend the life of Parliament.
In U.S. politics, general elections are elections held at any level (e.g. city, county, congressional district, state) that involve competition between at least two parties. General elections occur every two to six years (depending on the positions being filled with most positions good for four years) and include the presidential election, but unlike parliamentary systems the term can also refer to special elections that fill out positions prematurely vacated by the previous office holder (e.g. through death, resignation, etc.). Some parallels can be drawn between the general election in parliamentary systems and the biennial elections determining all House seats, although there is no analogue to "calling early elections" in the U.S., and the members of the elected U.S. Senate face elections of only one-third at a time at two-year intervals including during a general election.
Unlike parliamentary systems where the term is distinguished from by-elections, a general election in the US is used in reference to and distinguished from primaries or caucuses, which are intra-party elections meant to select a party's candidate for a particular race.
- Scotland Act 1998 (c. 46) - 2. Ordinary general elections
- Chapter 5 of the Louisiana Election Code, incorporating Section 18:401 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes.