There is a growing body of historical literature on elections in Africa. This literature has concerned itself with the detail of particular contests, and has substantially improved our understanding of these elections as events. But this very focus on the particular has diverted attention from study of some generic aspects of these phenomena. That ‘election’ means the process of choosing holders of political authority through the individual casting of secret ballots has been largely accepted as given; and the multiple processes which derive from this definition - the vast apparatus of voter registration, the ballot papers and polling stations, the scrutineers and monitors - have attracted attention only in so far as they relate to the narrative of political rivalries. This panel seeks to establish those processes as a focus of study. They were, on one level, manifestations of an ambitious attempt to create a new political order, heavily influenced by external political visions. The ritual of election by secret ballot has at times been assumed to possess an almost supernatural potency – seen as a performance which will in itself transform ideas of representation and the practice of government. On another level, however, the actual practice of elections also reflected alternative ideas of political order, and the conduct of elections has become a space for debate over the nature of the political process. This panel will explore these debates over the material culture, and institutional practice of elections, as a central element in debates over governance.