An indirect election is an election in which individual citizens vote for electors who will select a candidate. In other words, they don't vote for the candidate directly, choosing instead to put the decision in the hands of others. Indirect elections are used in a number of ways in nations around the world, and, historically, indirect elections were extremely common. The selected electors belong to a group known collectively as the electoral college.
Several nations elect their heads of state through the process of indirect election, including Hungary, Latvia, Israel, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, the United States, and the Czech Republic. In other nations, indirect elections are used to select members of legislative bodies and other public officials. Some people argue that the indirect election system allows candidates to focus more on national issues, since they do not necessarily need to focus on winning the popular vote, as long as they can secure the number of electors they need in order to win. Others feel that direct elections more accurately reflect the will of the people.
Indirect elections were often used historically to take power out of the hands of the people. Historically, the right to vote was often limited to land-owning men, and these men selected legislative bodies, relying on the legislature to select a president, prime minister, and other key officials. Many nations reformed these systems as the right to vote expanded, under the argument that the people should be allowed to play a more direct role in the selection of their governors.
The indirect method is not just used in government elections. Union elections, elections of student officials in schools, and other elections may also use an indirect method. In some cases, indirect elections are used to ensure that qualified individuals are elected, as for instance when people are electing someone who will serve as an administrator. The flashiest candidate may not necessarily be the best suited to governance from an administrative point of view, and an indirect election allows the electors to choose the most qualified candidate for the position.
Electors are typically “bound” to a specific candidate or party in an indirect election, so that citizens can be confident that they are represented accurately. If an elector chooses to vote for an opponent, he or she is known as a “faithless elector,” referencing the idea that the pledge has been broken. Faithless electors may vote for opponents as a symbol of protest, or because they genuinely believe that the opponent is a better candidate.