When were the first elections held?

The word "election" comes from a Latin root meaning "to choose." And the feeling people have had that they should have the right to choose their lead­ers goes back thousands of years.

The ancient Hebrews and Greeks fought for that right. The early kings of Israel were chosen by the people, and so were the generals of the ancient Greek armies.

The habit of freely choosing their leaders was brought to Britain by the Anglo-Saxon conquerors some 1,500 years ago. Thus, the right to vote for local officials became a part of English thinking and was brought to America by the early colonists. Even before the American Revolution, Americans had been voting in their town meetings and colonial assemblies.

But the matter of elections has always posed one big problem: who shall have the right to vote? At one time only property owners were allowed to vote, and at different times throughout history, there have been strange restrictions, such as the size of a person's hearth.

It was a long time before women were allowed to vote, and in many countries, this "universal franchise" was not achieved until after the first world war. The "suffragettes", campaigners for votes for women, took every opportunity to bring their cause to the notice of the public, often at great hardship to themselves.

Voting restrictions are still being changed from time to time when people feel that new categories of people should be allowed to vote. Recently the minimum voting age was reduced from 21 to 18.