(from the Latin suffragium
meaning "voting tablet", and figuratively "right to vote", and
originally a term for the pastern
to cast votes) is the civil right
, or the exercise of that right. It is also
called political franchise
or simply the
. Suffrage may apply to elections
, but also extends to initiatives
. Suffrage is used to describe not
only the legal right to vote, but also to the practical question of
the opportunity to vote, which is sometimes denied those who have a
legal right. In the United States, extensions of suffrage was part
of Jacksonian democracy
In most democracies, eligible voters can vote in elections of
representatives. Voting on issues by initiative
may be available in some jurisdictions
but not others. For example, Switzerland permits initiatives at all levels of government
whereas the United
States does not offer initiatives at the federal level or
in many states.
That new constitutions must be approved by
referendum is natural law
Typically citizens become eligible to vote after reaching the age
of legal adulthood. Most democracies no longer extend different
voting rights on the basis of sex or race. Resident aliens can vote
in some countries and in others exceptions are made for citizens of
countries with which they have close links (e.g. some members of
the Commonwealth of Nations
and the members of the European
Types of suffrage
Where Universal suffrage
the right to vote is not restricted by race, gender, belief, wealth
or social status. It typically does not extend a right to vote to
of a region;
distinctions are frequently made in regard to citizenship
, age, and occasionally mental
capacity or criminal convictions.
The short-lived Corsican Republic
(1755-1769) was the first country to grant limited universal
suffrage for all inhabitants over the age of 25. This was followed by
other experiments in the Paris Commune
of 1871 and the island republic of Franceville (1889), and then by
Zealand in 1893. Finland was the
first European country to grant universal suffrage to its citizens
in its 1906 elections, and the first country in the world to make
every citizen eligible to run for parliament.
is the right of
women to vote on the same terms as men. This was the goal of the
and the "Suffragettes
country to give women the right to the vote in national elections
was the Isle of
Man in 1880. When the ability to vote for members of the
Keys was proposed for all male householders, the
Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage sought the vote
for similarly qualified women with the measure passed in December
Equal suffrage is sometimes confused with Universal
, although its meaning is the removal of graded votes,
where a voter could possess a number of votes in accordance with
income, wealth or social status.
Also known as "censitary suffrage", Census suffrage is the opposite
of Equal suffrage,
meaning that the votes cast by those
eligible to vote are not equal, but are weighed differently
according to the person's rank in the census (e.g., people with
high income have more votes than those with a small income).
Suffrage may therefore be limited, usually to the propertied
classes, but can still be universal,
or ethnic minorities, if they
meet the census.
Where Compulsory suffrage
exists, those who are eligible to vote are required by law to do
so. Thirty-two countries currently practice this form of
Forms of exclusion from suffrage
In the aftermath of the Reformation
it was common in European
countries for people of disfavored religious denominations
to be denied
civil and political rights, often including the right to vote, to
stand for election or to sit in parliament. In the United Kingdom
and Ireland, Roman Catholics
the right to vote from 1728 to 1793, and the right to sit in
parliament until 1829. The anti-Catholic policy was justified on
the grounds that the loyalty of Catholics supposedly lay with the
rather than the national monarch.
England and Ireland, several
Acts practically disenfranchised non-Anglicans or non-Protestants
by imposing an oath before admission to vote or to run for
The 1673 and 1678 Test Acts
forbade non-Anglicans from holding public offices, the 1727
) voting rights in Ireland, which were
restored only in 1788. Jews could not even be naturalized. An
attempt was made to change this situation, but the Jewish Naturalization Act
provoked such reactions that it was repealed the next
(Methodists and Presbyterians) were only allowed to run for
elections to the British House of Commons in 1828, Catholics in 1829
(following the Catholic Relief
Act 1829), and Jews in 1858 (with the
Emancipation of the
Jews in England). Benjamin
could only begin his political career in 1837 because
he had been converted to Anglicanism at the age of 12.
In several British North American
, even the Declaration of Independence
or Catholics were denied
voting rights and/or forbidden to run for office. The Delaware Constitution of 1776
stated that "Every person who shall be chosen a member of either
house, or appointed to any office or place of trust, before taking
his seat, or entering upon the execution of his office, shall (...)
also make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit: I, A
B. do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only
Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do
acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be
given by divine inspiration.
". This was repealed by article I,
section 2 of the 1792
: "No religious test shall be required as a
qualification to any office, or public trust, under this State.".
The 1778 Constitution of the
State of South Carolina
stated that "No person shall be
eligible to sit in the house of representatives unless he be of the
Protestant religion", the 1777 Constitution of the State of
(art. VI) that "The representatives shall be chosen out
of the residents in each county (...) and they shall be of the
religion". In Maryland, voting rights and eligibility were extended to
Jews in 1828.
Canada, several religious groups (Mennonites, Hutterites,
Doukhobors) were disenfranchised by the
war-time Elections Act of 1917, mainly because they opposed
This disenfranchisement ended with the end
of the First World War, but was renewed for Doukhobors from 1934
(Dominion Elections Act
) to 1955.
Constitution of modern Romania in 1866 provided in article 7 that only Christians
could become Romanian citizens. Jews native to Romania
declared stateless persons. In 1879, under pressure of the
Berlin Peace Conference
this article was amended granting non-Christians the right to
become Romanian citizens, but naturalization was granted on a
case-by-case basis and was subject to Parliament approval. An
application took over ten years to process. Only in 1923 was a new
constitution adopted, whose article 133 extended Romanian
citizenship to all Jewish residents and equality of rights to all
Republic of Maldives, only Muslim Maldivian citizens have voting rights
and are eligible for parliamentary elections.
Wealth, tax class, social class
Until the nineteenth century, many Western democracies had property
qualifications in their electoral laws; e.g. only landowners could
vote, or the voting rights were weighed according to the amount of
taxes paid (as in the Prussian three-class
). Most countries abolished the property qualification
for national elections in the late nineteenth century, but retained
it for local government elections for several decades. Today these
laws have largely been abolished, although the homeless
may not be able to register because
they lack regular addresses.
Kingdom, prior to the House of Lords Act 1999, peer who were members of the House of
Lords were excluded from voting for the House of
Commons because they were not commoners.
sovereign is also ineligible to vote in British parliamentary
Sometimes the right to vote has been limited to people who had
achieved a certain level of education or passed a certain test,
e.g. "literacy tests" in some states of the US.
In practice, the composition and application of these tests were
frequently manipulated so as to functionally limit the electorate
on the basis of other characteristics like wealth or race.
Various countries, usually with large non-white populations, have
historically denied the vote to people of particular races or to
non-whites in general. This has been achieved in a number of ways:
- Official - laws and regulations passed specifically
disenfranchising people of particular races (for example South Africa under apartheid).
- Indirect - nothing in law specifically prevents anyone from
voting on account of their race, but other laws or regulations are
used to exclude people of a particular race. In southern American
states before the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, literacy and other
tests were used to disenfranchise African-Americans. Property qualifications
have tended to disenfranchise non-whites, particularly if
tribally-owned land is not allowed to be taken into consideration.
In some cases (such as early colonial New
Zealand) property qualifications were deliberately used to
disenfranchise non-whites; in other cases this was an unintended
(but not usually unwelcome) consequence.
- Unofficial - nothing in law prevents anyone from voting on
account of their race, but people of particular races are
intimidated or otherwise prevented from exercising this right.
All modern democracies require voters to meet age qualifications to
vote. Worldwide voting ages are not consistent, differing between
countries and even within countries, usually between 16 and 21
Many countries restrict the voting rights of convicted criminals.
Some countries, and some U.S. states
also deny the right to vote to those convicted of serious crimes
after they are released from prison. In some cases (e.g. the
laws found in many U.S. states
denial of the right to vote is automatic on a felony conviction; in
other cases (e.g. France and Germany) deprivation of the vote is
meted out separately, often limited to certain crimes such as those
against the electoral system. In the Republic of Ireland, prisoners are not specifically denied the right to
vote, but are also not provided access to a ballot station, so are
effectively disenfranchised. Canada allowed only
prisoners serving a term of less than 2 years the right to vote,
but this was found unconstitutional in 2002 by the Supreme
Court of Canada in Sauvé
and all prisoners were allowed to vote as of the 2004 Canadian federal
Under certain electoral systems elections are held within
subnational jurisdictions, preventing persons who would otherwise
be eligible from voting because they do not reside within such a
jurisdiction, or because they live in an area which cannot
participate. In the United States, residents of Washington,
DC receive no voting representation in Congress,
although they have (de facto) full representation in presidential
Residents of Puerto
have neither. Sometimes citizens become ineligible to vote
because they are no longer resident in their country of
citizenship. For example, Australian citizens who have been outside
Australia more than one and less than six years may excuse
themselves from the requirement to vote in Australian elections
remain outside Australia (voting in Australia is compulsory for
In most countries, suffrage is limited to citizens and, in many
cases, permanent residents of that country. However, some members
of supra-national organisations such as the Commonwealth of Nations
have given voting
rights to citizens of all countries within that organisation. Until
the mid-twentieth century, many Commonwealth countries gave the
vote to all British citizens in the country, regardless of whether
they were normally resident there. In most cases this was because
there was no distinction between British and local citizenship.
Several countries qualified this with restrictions preventing
non-white British citizens such as Indians and British Africans
from voting. Under European Union law, citizens of European Union
countries can vote in each others' local and European Parliament
elections on the same basis as citizens of the country in
In some countries, naturalized citizens do not enjoy the right of
vote and/or to be candidate, either permanently or for a determined
Article 5 of the 1831 Belgian
made a difference between ordinary naturalization,
and grande naturalisation
. Only (former) foreigners who
had been granted grande naturalisation
were entitled to
vote or be candidate for parliamentary elections or to be appointed
as minister. However, ordinary naturalized citizens could vote for
municipal elections. Ordinary naturalized citizens and citizens who
had acquired Belgian nationality through marriage were only
admitted to vote, but not to be candidate, for parliamentary
elections in 1976. The concepts of ordinary and grande
naturalization were suppressed from the Constitution in 1991.
France, the 1889
Nationality Law barred those who had acquired the French
nationality by naturalization or marriage from voting, eligibility
and access to several public jobs.
In 1938 the delay was
reduced to 5 years. These discriminations, as well as others
against naturalized citizens, were gradually abolished in 1973 (9
January 1973 law) and 1983.
Morocco, a former French protectorate, and in Guinea, a former French
colony, naturalized citizens are prohibited from voting for 5 years
after their naturalization.
States of Micronesia, Micronesian citizenship for a minimum of 15 years
is an eligibility condition to be elected to the
Nicaragua, Peru and the
Philippines, only citizens by birth are eligible for being
elected to parliament; naturalized citizens enjoy only voting
Uruguay, naturalized citizens have the right of eligibility
to the parliament after 5 years.
France, an 1872
law, rescinded only by a 1945 decree, prohibited all army personnel
Kingdom, public servants have to resign before running for
The 1876 Constitution of Texas
(article VI, section 1) stated that "The following classes of
persons shall not be allowed to vote in this State, to wit: (...)
Fifth--All soldiers, marines and seamen, employed in the service of
the army or navy of the United States.".
Most countries that exercise separation of powers
forbid a person
from being a member of a legislature and a government official at
the same time. Such provisions are found, for example, in Article I
of the U.S. Constitution.
History of suffrage around the world
History of suffrage in Canada
- Manitoba becomes the first province where women have the
right to vote in provincial elections.
- 1918 - Women gain full voting rights in federal elections.
- 1919 - Women gain the right to run for federal office.
- 1948 - Racial exclusions are removed from election laws.
- 1955 - Religious exclusions are removed from election
- 1960 - Right to vote is extended unconditionally to First Nations people. (Previously they could
vote only by giving up their status as First Nations people; this
requirement was removed.)
- 1960 - Right to vote in advance is extended to all electors
willing to swear they would be absent on election day.
- 1970 - Voting age lowered from 21 to 18.
- 1982 - Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms guarantees all adult citizens the right to
- 1988 - Supreme Court of Canada rules mentally ill patients have
the right to vote.
- 1993 - Any elector can vote in advance.
- 2002 - Prisoners given the right to vote in the riding in which
they received their conviction. All adult Canadians except the
Chief and Deputy Returning Officers can now vote in Canada.
History of suffrage in New Zealand
- 1853 - British government passes the New Zealand Constitution Act
1852, granting limited self rule, including a bicameral parliament to the colony. The
vote was limited to male British subjects aged 21 or over who owned
or rented sufficient property, and were not imprisoned for a
serious offence. Communally owned land was excluded from the
property qualification, thus disenfranchising most Māori (indigenous) men.
- 1860 - Franchise extended to holders of miner's licenses who
met all voting qualifications except that of property.
- 1867 - Māori seats established,
giving Māori four reserved seats in
the lower house. There was no property
qualification; thus Māori men gained universal suffrage before any
other group of New Zealanders. However, the number of seats did not
reflect the size of the Māori population.
- 1879 - Property requirement abolished.
- 1893 - Women given
equal voting rights with men, making New Zealand the first
nation in the world to allow their adult women to vote.
- 1969 - Voting age lowered to 20.
- 1974 - Voting age lowered to 18.
- 1975 - Franchise extended to permanent residents of New
Zealand, regardless of whether they have citizenship.
- 1996 - Number of Māori seats increased to reflect Māori
History of suffrage in Australia
- 1884 - Henrietta Dugdale forms the first Australian women’s
suffrage society in Melbourne.
- 1894 - South Australian women eligible to vote.
- 1902 - Women able to vote federally, and in the state of New
- 1921 - Edith Cowan elected to the West Australian Legislative
Assembly as member for West Perth, the first woman elected to any
- 1962 - Aboriginal
guaranteed right to vote in Commonwealth elections
History of suffrage in the Muslim world
History of suffrage in Japan
History of suffrage in the United Kingdom
Suffrage in the United Kingdom was slowly changed over the course
of the 19th and 20th centuries to allow universal suffrage through
the use of the Reform Acts
Representation of the
- Reform Act 1832 - extended
voting rights to adult males who rented propertied land of a
certain value, so allowing 1 in 7 males in the UK voting
- Reform Act 1867 - enfranchised
all male householders, so increasing male suffrage to the United
of the People Act 1884 - amended the Reform Act of 1867 so that
it would apply equally to the countryside; this brought the voting
population to 5,500,000, although 40% of males were still
disenfranchised, whilst women could not vote
- Between 1885-1918 moves were made by the suffragette movement to ensure votes for women.
However, the duration of the First World
War stopped this reform movement. See also The
Parliamentary Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885-1918.
of the People Act 1918 - the consequences of World War I
persuaded the government to expand the right to vote, not only for
the many men who fought in the war who were disenfranchised, but
also for the women who helped in the factories and elsewhere as
part of the war effort. Property restrictions for voting were
lifted for men, who could vote at 21; however women's votes were
given with these property restrictions, and were limited to those
over 30 years old. This raised the electorate from 7.7 million to
21.4 million with women making up 40% of the electorate. Seven
percent of the electorate had more than one vote. The first
election with this system was the United Kingdom general
of the People Act 1928 - this made women's voting rights equal
with men, with voting possible at 21 with no property
of the People Act 1948 - the act was passed to prevent plural voting
of the People Act 1969 - extension of suffrage to those 18 and
- The Representation
of the People Acts of 1983, 1985 and 2000 further modified
Administration Act 2006 - modified the ways in which people
were able to vote and reduced the age of standing at a public
election from 21 to 18.
History of suffrage in the United States
In the United States, suffrage is determined by the separate
states, not federally. However, the "right to vote" is expressly
mentioned in five Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These five
Amendments limit the basis upon which the right to vote may be
abridged or denied:
Amendment (1870): "The right of citizens of the United States
to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by
any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of
Amendment (1920): "The right of citizens of the United States
to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by
any State on account of sex."
Amendment (1964): "The right of citizens of the United States
to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice
President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for
Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or
abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to
pay any poll tax or other tax."
addition, the 23rd
Amendment (1961): provides that residents of the District of
Columbia can vote for the President and
Amendment (1971): "The right of citizens of the United States,
who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied
or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of
- p.19 Crawford, Elizabeth The Women's Suffrage Movement in
Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey 2006 Taylor &
- Australian Electoral Commission, "Voting Overseas -
Frequently Asked Questions", 20 November 2007
- Delcour, M.C., Traité théorique et pratique du droit électoral
appliqué aux élections communales, Louvain, Ickx & Geets, 1842,
- Patrick Weil, Nationalité française (débat sur
la)", dans Jean-François Sirinelli (dir.), Dictionnaire
historique de la vie politique française au XXe siècle, Paris, PUF,
1995, p. 719-721
- Nadia Bernoussi, L’évolution du processus électoral
au Maroc, 22/12/2005
- art. 3, al. 3, Loi Organique portant code électoral
- Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer)
- Neill Atkinson, Adventures in Democracy: A History of the
Vote in New Zealand (Dunedin: University of Otago Press,
- Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History
of Democracy in the United States (New York: Basic Books,
2000). ISBN 0-465-02968-X
- U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Reports on Voting (2005) ISBN
- "Smallest State in the World," New York Times, June
19, 1896, p 6
- A History of the Vote in Canada, Chief
Electoral Officer of Canada, 2007.