Is it possible and necessary to hold elections during war? We explain using the examples of the USA, Great Britain, Canada and Israel

Oksana Kovalenko
Dmytro Rayevskyi
Is it possible and necessary to hold elections during war? We explain using the examples of the USA, Great Britain, Canada and Israel

A campaign van decorated with posters of Woodrow Wilson.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Since the beginning of 2024, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Main Department of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense and the National Security and Defense Council have repeatedly warned that in the spring, the Russians will direct all their efforts in the information war to the topic of the illegitimacy of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy due to the end of his term of office. We have already explained that this is delusional and why it is now impossible to hold another presidential elections in Ukraine. But how did other democratic warring countries solve similar problems? In different ways. Depending on where exactly at that moment the hostilities were taking place and whether the authorities had the opportunity to hold a vote. Babel correspondent Oksana Kovalenko, a lawyer, tells how the USA, Great Britain, Canada and Israel solved similar crises and guaranteed stability during major wars.


Elections have never been postponed in the USA. But since the beginning of the 20th century, there has been no war on the territory of the United States, with the exception of the Japanese bombing of the Pearl Harbor naval base in the Hawaiian Islands during World War II. Martial law was not introduced in the USA, and none of the wars directly threatened the existence of the country.

However, the wars affected the results of the elections. In November 1916, when the First World War was in full swing, and the United States had not yet entered it, presidential elections were held, in which the Democrat Woodrow Wilson won under the slogan "He has kept us out of war." Despite the pre-election promise, on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. And in 1918, the parliamentary elections were held and the Democrats lost them — the Republicans won the majority in both chambers.

Presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson addresses a crowd in Union Square.

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Republican Warren Harding also became the next president in 1921. Harding built his election campaign on the slogans of "return to normal life". It is significant that the Republicans were voted en masse by German-Americans who accused the Democrats of discrimination during the war.

United Kingdom

Unlike the USA, Britain suffered from massive shelling in the 20th century. During the First World War, the country was bombed by German airships and heavy bombers. During the Second World War, Britain was shelled for almost the entire war — only from September 1940 to May 1941, more than 43 thousand people died from airstrikes. The country was under martial law, and key parties formed coalition governments.

Elections in Britain were sometimes postponed. During the First World War, they were supposed to take place in 1916, but the parliament prolonged its work and postponed the elections — twice in 1916 and twice in 1917. The war ended on November 11, 1918, and a month later parliamentary elections were held — on December 14, 1918. The previous composition of the parliament worked for eight years instead of five.

While the Second World War was going on in Europe, there were no elections in Britain either. Although opinions on this matter were different. Parliamentary elections were to be held in 1940. But in October, the parliament extended the work for a year. The bill was presented by the Lord Chancellor of Prime Minister Winston Churchillʼs government, John Allsbrook Simon from the National Liberal Party.

"Our friends in the United States are at this moment devoted to a stormy presidential election, but every one will understand that we cannot afford to exhaust ourselves with the internal strife of a general election, when the thoughts and energies of every one of us are constantly engaged in the struggle on which the future of British liberty depends.", he said then. And he added that elections are possible only after the end of the war.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill walks past soldiers on Horse Guards Parade, London, May 21, 1940.

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Labor generally supported the idea of postponing a specific election, but doubted that an election in wartime was altogether impossible.

"We donʼt know how long the war will last, and I donʼt think we should accept that elections cannot be held during the war. It may be necessary. We must not forget that we are fighting for the preservation of democratic institutions," said then Labor leader in the House of Lords Christopher Addison.

But there were no elections. Parliament extended the term of its mandate every year until November 1944. In the end, the election was held on July 5, 1945 — two months before the end of the Second World War, when Britain was no longer in danger.


Canada entered the First World War on August 5, 1914, and parliamentary elections were to be held in 1916. However, the government postponed the election until the end of the war, hoping to form a coalition government, as they had done in Britain.

At first, incumbent Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden and former Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Wilfred Laurier agreed that a wartime election could split society. But in 1917 Laurier began to demand elections — they were scheduled for the end of the same year.

At this time, Borden visited Europe, where he participated in the meetings of the war cabinet of the British Empire — the situation at the front was difficult, and Canada had to provide more troops. In the summer of 1917, conservatives proposed the mandatory conscription of men for service abroad. English-speaking Canadians actively supported the joint military actions of Canada and Britain, but French-speaking Canadians were in no hurry to go to the front. Protests against the mobilization began in Quebec.

Robert L. Borden on military training.

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Borden tried to bring Laurier into the coalition government to gain the support of French-speaking Canadians, but he refused. This caused a split in the Liberal Party itself — into French and English factions.

In addition, prior to the election, Borden passed a special law that prohibited emigrants from enemy countries—Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, Turks—from voting, even if they were full citizens. He also gave the right to vote to those women whose husbands or sons were at the front.

The election was finally held on December 17, 1917, and was won by the Conservatives with 57% of the vote against Laurierʼs 39%. But the First World War seriously divided Canadian society, the movement for independence began to gain momentum in Quebec.


In Israel, elections were quite often postponed due to hostilities — even the first in the countryʼs history.

Israel was created on May 14, 1948, when the British Mandate in Palestine ended. On the same day, the Jewish National Committee met in the Tel Aviv Museum and approved the Declaration on the Establishment of the State. They had to form a parliament, hold parliamentary elections and vote for the Israeli Constitution by October 1, 1948. But already on May 15, the Arab countries declared war on the new country — the armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq invaded the Israeli territory. Israel eventually won, but elections were held there only in January 1949, when the country was no longer in danger. And the truce with the Arab coutries was concluded from February to July of the same year.

Israeli politician Menachem Begin casts his vote in the elections for Israelʼs first National Assembly, January 1949.

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In October 1973, regular elections to the Knesset were to be held. But on October 6, the Doomsday War began, which lasted until October 26. Elections were again postponed and held after the end of the war — on December 31, 1973.

Local elections were to be held in Israel on October 31, 2023. But on October 7, several thousand Hamas fighters attacked Israeli settlements adjacent to the Gaza Strip. Israel declared a state of war and announced a ground operation in response. And twice postponed local elections — first to January 30, 2024, and then to February 27.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.