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An election is an event in which one or more people make a choice, such as selecting representatives. Elections are held by many different kinds of organizations, such as corporations, nonprofit organizations, and governments. A "free and fair" election is one in which people have meaningful opportunity to participate not only in the voting itself but in the campaigns leading up to the voting. This implies the freedom to run for office, to speak out in support of a candidate of one's choice, and so on, without fear of official reprisals.

Since incumbents and their appointees are in charge of writing, enforcing and interpreting the laws governing ballot access, voter registration, and so on, there is always a danger that the party in power will attempt to manipulate the process in a way that will produce a favorable outcome for it. Also, the more influence the incumbents have over the economy, the more dissidents' political freedom tends to be curtailed by pressure to conform to the will of those in power and by the difficulties involved in marshalling sufficient resources to campaign independently of the state's help. For such reason, elections in socialist nations tend to be relatively uncompetitive.

Some libertarians regard even a campaign conducted under conditions of freedom as having an unfair outcome if it results in candidates being elected who use their political power to deprive the people of the liberty and property to which they are entitled. This view holds that people should not have to vote down statist policies that would infringe their rights, because there is no libertarian principle according to which rights would be alienated by a refusal to show up at the polls or by a failure to prevail against a numerically stronger political faction. According to this view, the only truly free and fair elections would be those that people organize as private sector endeavors, and whose outcomes only determine the allocation of resources that people have voluntarily contributed to a fund to be administered by the election winners.

An election need not have more than one voter. For example, during a slow time of the day, there may be only one customer at a mall exercising choice among different vendors. It is still an event that could be considered a free and fair election if the government has not impinged on the ability of the consumers and producers in question to enter a marketplace that allows them to select in what transactions, if any, to engage. In an environment of individual sovereignty, each person is an electorate of one making decisions for himself, without being subject to any vetoes other than of those who decline to do business with him.