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Universal suffrage (also universal adult suffrage, general suffrage or common suffrage) consists of the extension of the right to vote to adult citizens (or subjects) as a whole, though it may also mean extending said right to minors and non-citizens. Although suffrage has two necessary components, the right to vote and opportunities to vote, the term universal suffrage is associated only with the right to vote and ignores the other aspect, the frequency that an incumbent government consults the electorate. Historically, universal suffrage often in fact refers to universal adult male suffrage.

The concept of universal suffrage originally referred to all male citizens having the right to vote, regardless of property requirements or other measures of wealth. The first system to explicitly claim to use universal suffrage was Francemarker which is generally recognized as the first national system to abolish all property requirements for voting. In theory France first used universal (male) suffrage in 1792 during the revolutionary period, although the turmoil of the period made this ineffective. France has used universal male suffrage continuously since 1848 (for resident citizens), longer than any other country.

In most countries, full universal suffrage - with the inclusion of women - followed universal male suffrage by about ten to twenty years. A notable exception is France, where women could not vote until 1944.

In the first modern democracies, the vote was restricted to those having adequate property and wealth, which almost always meant a minority of the male population. In some jurisdictions, other restrictions existed, such as restrictions on voters of a given religion. In all modern democracies the number of people who could vote increased gradually with time. The 19th century featured movements advocating "universal suffrage" (i.e. male) The democratic movement of the late 19th century, unifying liberals and social democrats, particularly in northern Europe, used the slogan Equal and Common Suffrage.

The concept of universal suffrage does not imply any impropriety in placing restrictions on the voting of convicted criminals or mentally ill persons. Such restrictions exist in many countries with universal suffrage. Equally, some universal suffrage systems apply only to resident citizens.

Expanding suffrage

The first movements toward universal suffrage (or manhood suffrage) occurred in the early 19th century, and focused on removing property requirements for voting. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the focus of universal suffrage movement became the removal of restrictions against women having the right to vote.

Several countries which had enacted universal suffrage had their normal legal process, or their existence, interrupted during the Second World War.

Many societies in the past have denied people the right to vote on the basis of race or ethnicity. For example, non-white people could not vote in national elections during apartheid-era South Africa, until the system came to an end with the first free multi-party elections in 1994. In the pre-Civil Rights Era American South, black people often technically had the right to vote, but various means prevented many of them from exercising that right.


Many states within the USAmarker used to disenfranchise paupers, persons who either paid no direct taxes or those receiving public assistance.

There are also differing degrees of legal recognition of non-resident citizens: non-resident Italiansmarker have a representative at-large in the Italian parliament; U.S. citizens voting abroad vote as residents of the last state where they (or their parents) lived; British people, however, cannot vote for their national parliamentmarker unless they have lived in the UK in the last fifteen years. A few nations also restrict those who are involved in the military or police forces, as it is in the case of Kuwait.

Many democratic countries, most notably the United Kingdom and France have had colonies, the inhabitants of which have not, or mostly not, been citizens of the imperial power, but subjects; subjects have generally not been entitled to vote for the imperial legislature. A peculiarly complex case is that of Algeriamarker under the Fourth French Republic; Algeria was legally an integral part of France, but citizenship was restricted (as in the French colonies proper) by culture, not by race or ethnicity. Any Algerian could become a French citizen by choosing to live like a Frenchman; very few did.

Citizens of an EU Member State are allowed to vote in EU parliamentary elections, as well as some local elections. For example, a British person living in Grazmarker, Austriamarker, would be able to vote in for the European Parliament as a resident of the "electoral district" of Austria, and to vote in Graz municipal elections. He would, however, not be able to vote in Austrian (federal) elections, or Styrianmarker (state) elections. Similarly, all locally resident EU citizens in the UK are allowed to vote for representatives of the local council, and those resident in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may vote for the devolved parliaments or assemblies, but only British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens are allowed to vote for the British House of Commonsmarker.

Notable dates for universal suffrage in the world

States have granted and revoked universal suffrage at various times, including Brunei since 1962.

Note: The table can be sorted alphabetically or chronologically using the icon.
Universal suffrage by country/territory
Year Country / Territory Notes
1792 Francemarker Universal male suffrage used in 1792, for the National Convention, enacted by law in 1793 and lost with the advent of the Directoire
1848 Francemarker Universal male suffrage reintroduced by Second Republic. Restrictions introduced to ensure voters' residence in 1851. Universal male suffrage reintroduced with the Third Republic and secret ballot in 1914
1867 Germanymarker Universal male suffrage by all males who had attained the age of 25. This made the Reichstag of the North German Confederation the most democratic parliament in Europe.
1869 Wyoming, USAmarker The first U.S. territory to allow women to run for the legislature and vote. Upon the state's admission into the Union in 1890, Wyoming was the first U.S. state to grant women the voting franchise. Other Western states also had universal suffrage before 1920.
1879 Bulgariamarker The first Bulgarian parliament election was held with universal suffrage for all males who attained the age of 21. It was shortly suppressed in 1881-1882 and reinstated afterwards.
1889 Franceville Universal suffrage without distinction of sex or race; however, only whites could hold office. After 1906 it was jointly ruled by Francemarker and Britainmarker and is now part of Vanuatumarker.
1893 New Zealandmarker With the inclusion of women becomes the first major nation to grant universal suffrage; however, women were not eligible to stand for parliament until 1919. Universal suffrage for Maori men over 21 granted 1867; extended to European males 1879.
1894 South Australiamarker Women's suffrage, but not universal. First state to also allow women as candidates for parliament. Other Australian states followed 1899-1908. Indigenous Australians were allowed to vote, but this right was restricted for some of them from 1902 and not completely restored until 1963.
1901 Australia The Commonwealth Constitution does not guarantee universal adult suffrage, although three Justices in McGinty v Western Australia (1996) 186 CLR 140; 134 ALR 289 stated that the requirement did in fact flow from the Commonwealth Constitution, as interpreted today.
1906 Grand Duchy of Finland As an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empiremarker, including women, first nation to also allow women as candidates. The Finnish parliamentary election of 1907 was the first time when women were actually elected (19 of 200 MPs). Finlandmarker became independent with the same Universal Suffrage in 1917. However, universal suffrage was only extended to local elections after independence.
1907 Austriamarker Equal suffrage for men
1913 Norwaymarker Including women, first independent nation to also allow women as candidates.
1915 Denmarkmarker First voting rights to anyone came in 1849, and the rules were changed a number of times. But it was not until the change of the constitution in 1915 that all men and women had influence on all chambers.
1917 Estoniamarker Two tiered elections were held, with 62 representatives from rural communities and towns elected in May-June and July-August, respectively.
1918 Canadamarker All women were granted the right to vote, and since 1920 a uniform federal franchise was created; Last to enact women's suffrage provincially was Quebecmarker in 1940; status Indians gained the right to vote in 1960.
1918 United Kingdommarker All males over the age of 21 were granted the right to vote and women over 30, with some property restrictions.
1918 Soviet Unionmarker With the 1918 Soviet Constitution; direct voting and the lifting of some political restrictions not until the 1936 Soviet Constitution.
1918 Austriamarker After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I universal suffrage including women.
1918 Czechoslovakiamarker After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I
1918 Germanymarker After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I and the introduction of a democratic system, the Weimar Republicmarker. Revoked during 1935-1945 by the Nuremberg Laws. The restrictions applied also to the territories occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The German Empiremarker (and the North German Confederationmarker before it) had had universal male suffrage since 1867/71, but only in federal elections; several constituent states, like Prussia, had had census suffrage and some, like Mecklenburg, had had no state elections at all.
1918 Hungarymarker After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I
1919 Democratic Republic of Armeniamarker became part of the Soviet Union in 1920
1919 Azerbaijan Democratic Republic became part of the Soviet Union in 1920
1919 Democratic Republic of Georgiamarker became part of the Soviet Union in 1921
1919 Polandmarker
1919 Luxembourgmarker
1919 The Netherlandsmarker universal male suffrage in 1917
1921 Swedenmarker Full male suffrage 1911 for those aged 25 and above, but only to one of two equally weighed chambers. Universal suffrage for men and women later enacted.
1922 Lithuaniamarker
1922 Republic of Irelandmarker As the Irish Free State in 1921, law changed from previous British law to franchise women equally with men in 1921. Law subsequently carried over during changes in constitutional status in 1937 and 1949.
1925 Newfoundland Joined Canada in 1949.
1928 Japanmarker universal male suffrage enacted
1928 United Kingdommarker Universal suffrage for all.
1931 Ceylonmarker (now as Sri Lankamarker) Indian Tamil disenfranchised 1949
1932 Brazilmarker Replaced the previous system of male suffrage, from 1891, which excluded homeless, women, priests, the military and illiterates.
1933 Spainmarker Suffrage for men practiced since 1869 to 1923 and in the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1936). In November 19, 1933 women were granted the right to vote. Revoked during Franco era (1939-1975) and recovered since 1977 in the new Spanish Constitution.
1933 Turkeymarker
1935 Burmamarker Last free elections held in 1990.
1944 Francemarker Universal suffrage including women introduced
1944 Jamaicamarker Universal suffrage for all adult males and females
1945 Bulgariamarker Universal suffrage including women and men serving in the Army was instituted by the government of the Fatherland front.
1945 Italymarker Universal male suffrage 1912 for people 30 or older, 1918 for people 21 or older
1945 Japanmarker Universal suffrage including women introduced
1947 Republic of Chinamarker (now on Taiwan) Universal suffrage under the Constitution of the Republic of China
1948 United Nations Provision of "universal and equal suffrage" in Universal Declaration of Human Rights [Article 21(3)]
1948 Israelmarker Universal suffrage since the founding of the State of Israel.
1948 South Koreamarker
1948 Belgiummarker
1950 Indiamarker All adult citizens as recognized by the Constitution of India, irrespective of race or gender.
1951 Argentinamarker Universal male suffrage granted in 1912; universal women's suffrage introduced in 1947.
1951 Ghanamarker Universal suffrage granted for the 1951 legislative election.
1952 Greecemarker Universal male suffrage in 1864, with secret ballot; women given the vote in local elections since 1930 and in parliamentary elections since 1952.
1955 Indonesiamarker
1955 Malaysiamarker
1956 Colombiamarker Electorate defined on the basis of adult franchise and joint electorate.
1956 Pakistanmarker
1963 Iranmarker Reforms under Shah's "White Revolution"
1964 Afghanistanmarker Constitution transformed Afghanistan into a modern democracy.
1965 United Statesmarker The 19th Amendment extended to women the right to vote in 1920, and as African Americans were legally given the right to vote by the 15th Amendment in 1870, the fa├žade of universal suffrage may have seen to be in effect. However many Southern States pro-actively disenfranchised poor and uneducated black voters through poll taxation, literacy tests and bureaucratic loopholes, immunity from these restrictions was often handed to would-be disqualified white voters through grandfather clauses. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 enforced the 15th Amendment, and in that same year the 24th Amendment put an end to the poll tax; full enfranchisement of all citizens was not secured until after the African-American Civil Rights Movement gained passage by United States Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
1965 Australia A murky constitutional history regarding the voting rights of Aboriginals of Australia was clarified and ratified at the federal government level and in subsequent state governments in the following years - see Human rights in Australia for more.
1971 Switzerlandmarker Introduction of women's suffrage at the federal level; for cantonal elections this was not completed until 1990marker.
1976 Portugalmarker
1979 European Community (now European Union)
1980 Zimbabwemarker Universal suffrage introduced in the 1978 Internal Settlement between Ian Smith and Abel Muzorewa. The 1979 Lancaster House constitution agreed to accommodate the nationalists also affirmed universal suffrage but with a special role for whites. Universal suffrage with no special consideration for race came in 1987. Previously Rhodesia had allowed only whites to vote, under policies based on legislated racial discrimination.
1984 Liechtensteinmarker
1990 Samoamarker
1994 South Africa universal suffrage not regarding race or colour of skin; Blacks and Coloureds were denied the right to vote during the Apartheid era (1948-1994). White women's suffrage granted in 1930.
1996 Taiwanmarker
2002 Bahrainmarker Universal male suffrage in 1973, although parliament was suspended and dissolved in 1975 for approximately 30 years.
2003 Omanmarker
2005 Kuwaitmarker Universal adult male suffrage since 1962, for citizens who are 21 or older, with the exception of those who, at the time of elections, serve in the armed forces and, citizens who have been naturalized for fewer than 30 years. Note: As of 2005, women who satisfy the age and citizenship requirements are allowed to vote provided both men and women vote in separate polling locations.
2006 - 2010 U.A.E.marker Limited, will be fully expanded by 2010.
2008 Bhutanmarker
2010 Qatarmarker Municipal elections since 1999.
2017 (planned) Hong Kongmarker

Women's suffrage

The first women's suffrage was granted in Corsica in 1755 and lasted until 1769.

Women's suffrage (with the same property qualifications as for men) was next granted in New Jerseymarker in 1776 (the word "inhabitants" was used instead of "men") and rescinded in 1807.

The Pitcairn Islandsmarker granted restricted women's suffrage in 1838. Various other countries and states granted restricted women's suffrage in the latter half of the nineteenth century, starting with South Australia in 1861.

The first unrestricted women's suffrage in terms of voting rights (women were not initially permitted to stand for election) in a major country was granted in New Zealand. The women's suffrage bill was adopted mere weeks before the general election of 1893.

South Australia first granted women suffrage and allowed them to stand for parliament in 1894.

In 1931, the Second Spanish Republic allowed women the right of passive suffrage with three women being elected.During the discussion to extend their right to active suffrage, the Radical Socialist Victoria Kent confronted the Radical Clara Campoamor. Kent argued that Spanish women were not yet prepared to vote and, since they were too influenced by the Catholic Church they would vote for right-wing candidates. Campoamor however pleaded for women's rights regardless of political orientation. Her point finally prevailed and, in the election of 1933, the political right won with the vote of citizens of any sex over 23. Both Campoamor and Kent lost their seats.


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