Writ of election

Last updated

Election writ issued by the provost marshal to freeholders of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, 1759 D. Christopher Jessen, Deputy Provost Marshall, to Freeholders of Lunenburg Township and County - election writ for the second assembly.png
Election writ issued by the provost marshal to freeholders of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, 1759

A writ of election is a writ issued ordering the holding of an election. In Commonwealth countries writs are the usual mechanism by which general elections are called and are issued by the head of state or their representative. In the United States, writs are more commonly used to call special elections for political offices.


In some countries, especially in Canada, [1] the process of issuing writs of election is referred to as "dropping the writ", [2] likely derived from the phrase "drawing up [the writ]". [3]

In some parliamentary systems, the head of government (e.g. prime minister or premier) advises the head of state to issue writs of election (typically following the dissolution of parliament in order to hold general elections, but also for by-elections). The head of state usually reserves the right to refuse the request, in which case the head of government is required by convention or statute to resign. For example, in the case of a minority government, the head of state can deny the request for dissolution and ask the leader of another parliamentary party to form a government. [4] [5] In some cases, such as with the president of Ireland, [6] there are specific limitations on when a head of state can refuse the request. Even then, the right is rarely exercised, as it is likely to precipitate a constitutional crisis (see, for example, the Canadian King–Byng Affair of 1926). [7]


Usually, according to parliamentary law, the head of government must regularly call an election but it is otherwise within their discretion when to drop the writ, up to the time when the parliament has served its full term. At that point, an election must be called by issuing the writs. An exception to this principle is if a fixed-term election law has been enacted. [8]

In some states and territories of Australia, such as New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory, it is normally required by law that the parliament must run its full term before issuing the writs. Early dissolutions are allowed by the governor (NSW, Vic, SA) or federal minister for territories (ACT) only if certain objective criteria are met – in particular, if the parliament is unable to agree on the annual budget. Similarly, in New Zealand, it is the norm for parliament to run full term (or very close to full term) unless the prime minister cannot govern or feels they must bring an important issue before the nation. [9]

Opposition parties can bring down the government by passing a motion of no confidence, in which the prime minister is required by convention or specific law to either drop the writ or resign; parliaments do not have the right to force the prime minister to drop the writ.

Practice by country

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, a writ is the only way of holding an election for the House of Commons. When the government wants to, or is required to, dissolve Parliament, a writ of election is drawn up for each constituency in the UK by the clerk of the Crown in Chancery. They are then formally issued by the monarch. [10] (When the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 was in effect, writs were issued by the lord chancellor. [11] )

Where a single constituency becomes vacant, a writ is issued by the speaker of the House of Commons to trigger the by-election for that seat. [12]

After the election has been held in a constituency, the acting returning officer must write the name of the winning candidate on the writ and return it to the clerk of the Crown.


In Canada, a writ is the only way of holding an election for the House of Commons. When the government wants to or, is required to, dissolve Parliament, a writ of election is drawn up for each riding (electoral district) in Canada by the chief electoral officer. [13] They are then formally issued by the governor general. Similarly where a single riding becomes vacant, a writ is issued to trigger the by-election for that seat. A writ with the name of the successful candidate noted on its back will be returned to the chief electoral officer. [14]

"Dropping the writ"

An informal term used in Canada to describe the issuing of writs of election is "dropping the writ". [1] [15] The usage of the word drop in this context is likely derived from the phrase "draw up". [3] [ verification needed ] Although it is still considered stylistically inappropriate by some, [1] who assert that the correct phrase is "the writs are issued", [16] or the "writs are drawn up", [17] the term has been recorded in academic text. [2]


In Australia, writs for election are issued by the governor-general for the House of Representatives within 10 days of the dissolution or expiration of the House and by the state governors for the election of senators for their respective states, while writs for the election of territory senators are issued by the governor-general. [18] State governors also issue the writs for elections in the state legislatures

The writs are issued to the relevant electoral officer or returning officer, as the case may be, who returns them after the election has been held within a fixed period. [19]

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Electoral Act 1993 mandates that, following the dissolution of Parliament, the governor-general signs only a single writ instructing the Electoral Commission to hold a general election. [20] After the general election has been held, a single writ is returned to the clerk of the House of Representatives with the names of all successful candidates who have been elected to electorate seats. [21] A writ will also be issued when a by-election is held. [20]

United States

In the United States, this writ is issued mainly by state governors for filling vacancies in the United States House of Representatives, the United States Senate, or the states' own legislatures. [22]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Westminster system</span> Parliamentary system of government

The Westminster system or Westminster model is a type of parliamentary government that incorporates a series of procedures for operating a legislature. This concept was first developed in England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">House of Commons of Canada</span> Lower house of the Canadian Parliament

The House of Commons of Canada is the lower house of the Parliament of Canada. Together with the Crown and the Senate of Canada, they comprise the bicameral legislature of Canada.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Australian Senate</span> Upper house of the Parliament of Australia

The Senate is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of Australia, the lower house being the House of Representatives. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Chapter I of the Constitution of Australia. There are a total of 76 senators: 12 are elected from each of the six Australian states regardless of population and 2 from each of the two autonomous internal Australian territories. Senators are popularly elected under the single transferable vote system of proportional representation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Parliamentary system</span> Form of government

A parliamentary system, or parliamentarian democracy, is a system of democratic governance of a state where the executive derives its democratic legitimacy from its ability to command the support ("confidence") of the legislature, typically a parliament, to which it is accountable. In a parliamentary system, the head of state is usually a person distinct from the head of government. This is in contrast to a presidential system, where the head of state often is also the head of government and, most importantly, where the executive does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature.

The Canadian electoral system is based on a parliamentary system of government, modelled on that of the United Kingdom.

Dissolution of a legislative assembly is the mandatory simultaneous resignation of all of its members, in anticipation that a successive legislative assembly will reconvene later with possibly different members. In a democracy, the new assembly is chosen by a general election. Dissolution is distinct on the one hand from abolition of the assembly, and on the other hand from its adjournment or prorogation, or the ending of a legislative session, any of which begins a period of inactivity after which it is anticipated that the same members will reassemble. For example, the "second session of the fifth parliament" could be followed by the "third session of the fifth parliament" after a prorogation, but the "first session of the sixth parliament" after a dissolution.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">King–Byng affair</span> Canadian constitutional crisis that occurred in 1926

The King–Byng affair was a Canadian constitutional crisis that occurred in 1926, when the governor general of Canada, the Lord Byng of Vimy, refused a request by the prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, to dissolve parliament and call a general election.

Canada holds elections for legislatures or governments in several jurisdictions: for the federal (national) government, provincial and territorial governments, and municipal governments. Elections are also held for self-governing First Nations and for many other public and private organizations including corporations and trade unions. Municipal elections can also be held for both upper-tier and lower-tier governments.

Elections in Australia take place periodically to elect the legislature of the Commonwealth of Australia, as well as for each Australian state and territory and for local government councils. Elections in all jurisdictions follow similar principles, although there are minor variations between them. The elections for the Australian Parliament are held under the federal electoral system, which is uniform throughout the country, and the elections for state and territory Parliaments are held under the electoral system of each state and territory.

A fixed-term election is an election that occurs on a set date, and cannot be changed by incumbent politicians other than through exceptional mechanisms if at all.

A double dissolution is a procedure permitted under the Australian Constitution to resolve deadlocks in the bicameral Parliament of Australia between the House of Representatives and the Senate. A double dissolution is the only circumstance in which the entire Senate can be dissolved.

The Parliament of the United Kingdom is dissolved automatically five years after the day on which it first met or earlier by the Sovereign by royal proclamation at the request of the Prime Minister. The prerogative power to dissolve Parliament was revived by the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, which also repealed Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. By virtue of amendments made by the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act to Schedule 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983, the dissolution of Parliament automatically triggers a general election for the next Parliament.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Politics of Australia</span> Political system of Australia

The politics of Australia take place within the framework of a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system under its Constitution, the world's tenth oldest, since Federation in 1901. Australia is the world's sixth oldest continuous democracy and largely operates as a two-party system in which voting is compulsory. The Economist Intelligence Unit rated Australia a "full democracy" in 2022. Australia is also a federation, where power is divided between the federal government and the states and territories.

A term of office, electoral term, or parliamentary term is the length of time a person serves in a particular elected office. In many jurisdictions there is a defined limit on how long terms of office may be before the officeholder must be subject to re-election. Some jurisdictions exercise term limits, setting a maximum number of terms an individual may hold in a particular office.

In politics, a casual vacancy is a situation in which a seat in a deliberative assembly becomes vacant during that assembly's term. Casual vacancies may arise through the death, resignation or disqualification of the sitting member, or for other reasons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dáil Éireann</span> Lower house of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament)

Dáil Éireann is the lower house, and principal chamber, of the Oireachtas, which also includes the President of Ireland and Seanad Éireann. It consists of 160 members, each known as a Teachta Dála. TDs represent 39 constituencies and are directly elected for terms not exceeding five years, on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote (PR-STV). Its powers are similar to those of lower houses under many other bicameral parliamentary systems and it is by far the dominant branch of the Oireachtas. Subject to the limits imposed by the Constitution of Ireland, it has power to pass any law it wishes, and to nominate and remove the Taoiseach. Since 1922, it has met in Leinster House in Dublin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Constitution Act 1986</span> Act of the New Zealand Parliament

The Constitution Act 1986 is an Act of the New Zealand Parliament that forms a major part of the constitution of New Zealand. It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles of governance, and establishes the powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state. It outlines the roles and duties of the monarch, the governor-general, ministers and judges. The Act repealed and replaced the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 and the Statute of Westminster, and removed the ability of the British Parliament to pass laws for New Zealand with the consent of the New Zealand Parliament.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2023 New Zealand general election</span> Future general election to be held in New Zealand

The 2023 New Zealand general election to determine the composition of the 54th Parliament of New Zealand is planned to be held on 14 October 2023, after the currently elected 53rd Parliament is dissolved or expires. Voters will elect 120 members to the unicameral New Zealand House of Representatives under the mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting system, a proportional representation system in which 72 members will be elected from single-member electorates and 48 members from closed party lists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">53rd New Zealand Parliament</span> Current New Zealand parliamentary term

The 53rd New Zealand Parliament is the current meeting of Parliament in New Zealand. It opened on 25 November 2020 following the 17 October 2020 general election, and will expire on or before 20 November 2023 to trigger the next election. It consists of 120 members of Parliament (MPs) with five parties represented: the Labour and Green parties, in government, and the National, Māori and ACT parties, in opposition. The Sixth Labour Government has a majority in this Parliament. Jacinda Ardern continued as prime minister until her resignation on 25 January 2022; she was succeeded by Chris Hipkins.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Next Australian federal election</span> Election for the 48th Parliament of Australia

The next Australian federal election will be held some time during or before 2025 to elect members of the 48th Parliament of Australia. All 151 seats in the House of Representatives and likely 40 of the 76 seats in the Senate will be contested. It is expected that at this election, the Labor government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will be seeking re-election to a second term in office, opposed by the Liberal/National Coalition under Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton.


  1. 1 2 3 Haydn Watters, "Many writs, no 'dropping': What the election call actually means", CBC News, September 11, 2019
  2. 1 2 Bhatia, Prof Dr K. L. (2010). Textbook on Legal Language and Legal Writing. Universal Law Publishing. p. 356. ISBN   978-81-7534-894-3.
  3. 1 2 Statutes of the Province of Manitoba, Manitoba: Queen's Printer, 1887, p. 148
  4. Butler, David (18 June 1991). Surrogates for the Sovereign: Constitutional Heads of State in the Commonwealth. Springer. pp. 264–5. ISBN   978-1-349-11565-5.
  5. As happened in the Canadian King–Byng Affair: Williams, Jeffery (1992). Byng of Vimy: General and Governor General. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 305. ISBN   978-0-436-57110-7.
  6. Farrell, David M.; Hardiman, Niamh (2021). The Oxford Handbook of Irish Politics. Oxford University Press. p. 372. ISBN   978-0-19-882383-4.
  7. Forsey, Eugene A.; Tattrie, Jon (30 July 2013). "King-Byng Affair". The Canadian Encyclopedia . Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  8. "Writs". Glossary. UK Parliament. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  9. "Editorial: Political farce, but no early election". NZ Herald. 9 May 2002. Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  10. "Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act". Section 2, Act of 24 March 2022. Parliament of the United Kingdom . Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  11. "Fixed-term Parliaments Act". Section 3, Act of 15 September 2011. Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  12. "By-elections". The United Kingdom Parliament. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  13. Marleau, Robert; Montpetit, Camille. "The House of Commons and Its Members – The Writ of Election". House of Commons Procedure and Practice. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  14. "The writ of election". www.elections.ca. Elections Canada. 9 August 2022. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  15. "Dropping the Writ: How A Federal Election is Called", studentvote.ca, July 30, 2015
  16. Dickson, Janice (31 July 2015). "Writ's end: Everybody please stop saying 'drop the writ'". www.ipolitics.ca. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  17. "Season 1 Episode 38 - Nerds On Politics: Why You Never 'Drop' A Writ", www.tvo.org, TVO , retrieved 23 January 2023
  18. Constitution ss.12 and 32; Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) ss. 151 and 154
  19. "Federal Election Timetable". Australian Electoral Commission. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  20. 1 2 "Electoral Act". Sections 125, 129, Act of 17 August 1993. New Zealand Parliament . Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  21. "Writ-ten in the stars". www.parliament.nz. New Zealand Parliament. 22 September 2020. Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  22. "An Act Concerning United States Senate Vacancies". Connecticut General Assembly. Retrieved 27 March 2011.