POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy


Laws are rules recognized by communities or societies which regulate the actions of their citizens. Laws differ from customs or conventions in that they can be legally enforced through the judicial branch of government and sanctions can be imposed upon those who have transgressed. In democratic societies, laws should ideally represent the views of society as a whole over time. This is because they must be approved by a democratically elected legislature before coming into force. On the other hand, current legislatures have the general ability to repeal laws made in previous generations. Two major categories of law are civil law and criminal law.

Civil law involves disputes being brought forward by private individuals or organizations against other private individuals or organizations. It seeks to compensate victims for losses stemming from wrongdoing committed by the other party. Ideally, the aim of civil law is not to punish wrongdoers, but rather to make them liable only for the wrong they have committed. Defendants are held to be either liable or not liable.

On the other hand, criminal law involves actions being brought by the state against individual citizens. Here the primary goal of the law is to punish wrongdoers for their transgressions, as well as deterring others from committing crimes in the future. Defendants are held to be either guilty or not guilty.  

Overlapping Jusrisdiction

In federal states laws can generally be made at three different levels of government: local government, state government and federal government. Local authorities can only create laws relating to a narrow spectrum of issues affecting their specific communities, and have usually only been granted the power to do so by either state or federal governments. States are able to legislate within a broader range of policy areas, however when they come into conflict with laws made at the federal level, they are generally overridden.

See also: Legal Norm, Bylaws, Regulation

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