This article examines the relationship between elections and political participation in nineteenth-century Peru. Focusing on the elections of 1871–72, I argue that for a better understanding of the way elections facilitated political participation, we should consider not only the vote itself but also analyse the extensive electoral campaign. Generally, voting was irregular, as the different political factions attempted to impede the participation of their opponents through violence. To win the violent clashes on election day it was necessary to mobilise the popular classes. Especially in the cities, corruption and patron–client ties alone proved to be insufficient to gain support. To build powerful political factions, candidates had to win public opinion through massive campaigning and they had to respond to the claims of the urban middle and lower classes. All factions engaged in electoral fraud and neither the government nor any other political actor could determine the electoral outcome. Strong political factions were able to counterbalance governmental interference. That is why, in 1872, a government-opposed candidate, Manuel Pardo, was able to win the presidential election.