This transitional paragraph begins by portraying Antony as Caesar’s lackey who is unable to do anything during his consulship without first asking his colleague for guidance — even if this involves running after Caesar’s litter. This utter lack of independence serves as foil for his conduct during the election of Dolabella to the suffect consulship over which Caesar presided, though initially it appeared that Antony would hold his peace: Cicero gives a quick blow-by-blow of the different stages of a late-republican voting assembly, while noting that Antony missed every single opportunity during the proceedings to voice his pre-announced religious objections.
To make sense of the second half of the paragraph, we need to establish how one specific voting assembly worked, the so-called comitia centuriata, which was used to elect the higher magistrates (here a suffect consul). Rome’s population of citizens was distributed into so-called classes on the basis of an assessment of the wealth of each individual (with an eye to the ability to arm himself for military service), called census. For voting purposes, people within each class were grouped into ‘centuries’. The wealthier the class, the higher the number of centuries it received. Thus of the 193 centuries in the comitia centuriata, 83 belonged to the first class and 104 to the second to the fifth class taken together, with 6 centuries formed from the ancient clan tribes Tities, Ramnes, and Luceres making up the rest. Voting took place by these units. Simple majority determined which way a specific century voted. The overall outcome was determined by a simple majority of centuries, which meant that the first candidate who got the votes of 97 centuries would win the election. The system was clearly skewed in favour of the wealthy, though recent scholarship has argued against the consensus of earlier literature that the lower classes were not entirely disenfranchised: see Yakobson (1999).
On the day of the election of consuls and praetors (those magistracies endowed with imperium, i.e. the right to command an army), the order of voting included a complex procedure as follows (Taylor 1966: 84):
1.Lots were drawn to determine which of the centuriate units (centuriae) from the first class (prima classis) would cast their votes first. This centuria was labeled centuria praerogativa. (prae-rogativus literally means ‘that is asked before others for their opinion’ or, specifically, ‘that votes first’; our ‘prerogative’ comes from it.)
ii.The members of the designated centuria praerogativa would cast their votes and the outcome would be announced.
iii.The remaining centuriae of the first class (prima classis) cast their votes.
iv.The so-called six suffragia (the six centuries formed from the clan tribes Tities, Ramnes, and Luceres) cast their votes.
v.The lower classes cast their votes, in order.
In the case of Dolabella’s election, there was no rival candidate, hence, on the basis of simple majority, the election would be over well before any of the lower classes got to cast their votes. He would have received the vote of the centuriapraerogativa (1), the rest of the prima classis (1 + 82), the six suffragia (1 + 82 + 6), and would have reached the magic number of 97 after eight centuries from the secunda classis had cast their vote (1 + 82 + 6 + 8).