Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise—distinct from other rights to vote—is the right to vote gained through the democratic process. The right to run for office is sometimes called candidate eligibility, and the combination of both rights is sometimes called full suffrage. In many languages, the right to vote is called the active right to vote and the right to run for office is called the passive right to vote. In English, these are sometimes called active suffrage and passive suffrage.
Suffrage is often conceived in terms of elections for representatives. However, suffrage applies equally to initiatives and referenda. Suffrage describes not only the legal right to vote, but also the practical question of whether a question will be put to a vote. The utility of suffrage is reduced when important questions are decided unilaterally by elected or non-elected representatives.
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, while some U.S. states such as California and Washington have exercised their shared sovereignty to offer citizens the opportunity to write, propose, and vote on referendums and initiatives, other states have not. Meanwhile, the United States federal government does not offer any initiatives at all. On the other hand, many countries, such as Switzerland, permit initiatives at all levels of government.
Suffrage is granted to qualifying citizens once they have reached the voting age. What constitutes a qualifying citizen depends on the government's decision, but most democracies no longer extend different rights to vote on the basis of sex or race. Resident aliens can vote in some countries, and other countries make exceptions for citizens of countries they have close links to (e.g., some members of the Commonwealth of Nations and members of the European Union).
The word suffrage comes from Latinsuffragium, meaning "vote", "political support", and the right to vote. The etymology of the Latin word is uncertain, with some sources citing Latin suffragari "lend support, vote for someone", from sub "under" + fragor "crash, din, shouts (as of approval)", related to frangere "to break" (related to fraction). Other sources say that attempts to connect suffragium with fragor cannot be taken seriously. Some etymologists think that it may be related to suffrago and may have originally meant an ankle bone or knuckle bone.
Where universal suffrage exists, the right to vote is not restricted by sex, race, social status, or wealth. It typically does not extend a right to vote to all residents 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). In 1893, New Zealand became the first major nation to achieve universal suffrage, and the Freedom in the World index lists New Zealand as the only free country in the world in 1893. In 1906, Finland became the second country in the world, and the first in Europe, to grant universal suffrage to its citizens. At this time, however, women in New Zealand did not have the right to run for office. In 1906, Finland became the first country in the world to give women full political rights.
Women's suffrage is the right of women to vote on the same terms as men. This was the goal of the suffragists and the suffragettes. Limited voting rights were gained by some women in Sweden, Britain, and some western U.S. states in the 1860s. In 1893, the British colony of New Zealand became the first self-governing nation to extend the right to vote to all adult women. In 1894 the women of South Australia achieved the right to both vote and stand for Parliament. The autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in the Russian Empire was the first European nation to allow all women to both vote and run for parliament.
Equal suffrage is sometimes confused with Universal suffrage, 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", 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, or a stockholder in a company with more shares has more votes than someone with fewer shares). Suffrage may therefore be limited, usually to the propertied classes, but can still be universal, including, for instance, women or ethnic minorities, if they meet the census.
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 Great Britain and Ireland, Roman Catholics were denied 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 Pope rather than the national monarch.
In several states in the U.S. after the Declaration of Independence, Jews, Quakers 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 Constitution: "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 Georgia (art. VI) that "The representatives shall be chosen out of the residents in each county (…) and they shall be of the Protestent (sic) religion". In Maryland, voting rights and eligibility were extended to Jews in 1828.
In Canada, several religious groups (Mennonites, Hutterites, Doukhobors) were disenfranchised by the wartime Elections Act of 1917, mainly because they opposed military service. This disenfranchisement ended with the end of the First World War, but was renewed for Doukhobors from 1934 (Dominion Elections Act) to 1955.
The first Constitution of modern Romania in 1866 provided in article 7 that only Christians could become Romanian citizens. Jews native to Romania were 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 Parliamentary 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 Romanian citizens.
In the Republic of Maldives, only Muslim citizens have voting rights and are eligible for parliamentary elections. On 25 November 2011, the UN human rights chief called on Maldivian authorities to remove the discriminatory constitutional provision that requires that every citizen be a Muslim.
Until the nineteenth century, many Western democracies had property qualifications in their electoral laws; e.g. only landowners could vote (because the only tax for such countries was the property tax), or the voting rights were weighed according to the amount of taxes paid (as in the Prussian three-class franchise). 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.
Various countries, usually countries with a dominant race within a wider population, have historically denied the vote to people of particular races, or to all but the dominant race. This has been achieved in a number of ways:
Official - laws and regulations passed specifically disenfranchising people of particular races (for example, the United States of America in the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, or 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 states of the United States of America before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, poll taxes, literacy and other tests were used to disenfranchise African-Americans. Property qualifications have tended to disenfranchise a minority race, particularly if tribally-owned land is not allowed to be taken into consideration. In some cases this was an unintended (but usually welcome) 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.
In New Zealand the Maori have been enfranchised effectively since 1865 at the conclusion of the Maori War. Maori still have the choice of voting in a general (all race) electorate or a solely Maori electorate.
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 years. Demeny voting would extend voting rights to everyone including children regardless of age.
Many countries restrict the voting rights of convicted criminals.[clarification needed] Some countries, and some U.S. states, also deny the right to vote to those convicted of serious crimes even after they are released from prison. In some cases (e.g. the felony disenfranchisement laws found in many U.S. states) the 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, and often limited to specific crimes such as those against the electoral system or corruption of public officials. In the Republic of Ireland, prisoners are allowed the right to vote, following the Hirst v UK (No2) ruling, and this was granted in 2006. 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 v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer), and all prisoners were allowed to vote as of the 2004 Canadian federal election.
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 that 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 elections. Residents of Puerto Rico 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 while they remain outside Australia (voting in Australia is compulsory for resident citizens).
In some cases, a certain period of residence in a locality may required for the right to vote in that location. For example, in the United Kingdom up to 2001, each 15 February a new electoral register came into effect, based on registration as of the previous 10 October, with the effect of limiting voting to those resident five to seventeen months earlier depending on the timing of the election.
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 and the European Union 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 other's local and European Parliament elections on the same basis as citizens of the country in question, but usually not in national elections.
In some countries, naturalized citizens do not have the right to vote or to be candidate, either permanently or for a determined period.
Article 5 of the 1831 Belgian Constitution made a difference between ordinary naturalization, and grande naturalisation. Only (former) foreigners who had been granted grande naturalisation were entitled to vote, be a candidate for parliamentary elections, or be appointed minister. However, ordinary naturalized citizens could vote for municipal elections. Ordinary naturalized citizens and citizens who had acquired Belgian nationality through marriage could vote, but not be candidates for parliamentary elections in 1976. The concepts of ordinary and grande naturalization were suppressed from the Constitution in 1991.
In 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.
In Morocco, a former French protectorate, and in Guinea, a former French colony, naturalized citizens are prohibited from voting for 5 years after their naturalization.
In Nicaragua, Peru and the Philippines, only citizens by birth are eligible for being elected to the national legislature; naturalized citizens enjoy only voting rights.
In Uruguay, naturalized citizens have the right of eligibility to the parliament after 5 years.
In the United States, the President and Vice President must be natural-born citizens. All other governmental offices may be held by any citizen, although citizens may only run for Congress after an extended period of citizenship (seven years for the House of Representatives and nine for the Senate).
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.".
In many countries with a presidential system of government a person is forbidden to be a legislator and an official of the executive branch at the same time. Such provisions are found, for example, in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.
Finland was the first nation in the world to give all adult citizens full suffrage, in other words the right to vote and to run for office (in 1906). New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant all adult citizens the right to vote (in 1893), but women did not get the right to run for the New Zealand legislature until 1919.
1932 - Vote becomes obligatory to all adults over 21 years old. Until then, vote was not obligatory but only allowed to men and limited by income and occupation.
1955 - Adoption of standardized voting ballots and identification to mitigate frauds.
1964 - Military regime established. From then on, presidents were elected by members of the congress, chosen by regular vote.
1989 - Reestablishment of universal suffrage for all citizens over 16 years old. People considered illiterate are not obliged to vote, as people younger than 18 and older than 70 years old. People under the obligation rule shall file a document to justify their absence should they not vote.
2000 - Brazil becomes the first country with full adoption of electronic ballots in their voting process.
1916 - Manitoba becomes the first province where women have the right to vote in provincial elections.
1917 - Wartime Elections Act - Gives voting rights to women with relatives fighting overseas. Voting rights are stripped from all "enemy aliens" (those born in enemy countries who arrived in Canada after 1902; see also Ukrainian Canadian internment).Military Voters Act - gave the vote to all soldiers, even non-citizens, (with exception of Indian and Metis veterans) and to females serving as nurses or clerks for the armed forces, but the votes are not for specific candidates but simply for or against the government.
1918 - Women gain full voting rights in federal elections.
1947 - Racial exclusions against Chinese and Indo-Canadians lifted.
1948 - Racial exclusions against Japanese Canadians lifted.
1955 - Religious exclusions are removed from election laws.
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.
1991 - Voting and eligibility rights were granted to [extended to all foreign residents in 1991 with a 2 years residence condition for municipal elections
1995 - Residence requirement abolished for EU residents, in conformity with the European legislation (Law 365/95, confirmed by Electoral Law 714/1998)
1996 - Voting age lowered to 18 years at date of voting.
2000 - Section 14, al. 2 of the 2000 Constitution of Finland states that "Every Finnish citizen and every foreigner permanently resident in Finland, having attained eighteen years of age, has the right to vote in municipal elections and municipal referendums, as provided by an Act. Provisions on the right to otherwise participate in municipal government are laid down by an Act."
Minimum age to vote was reduced from 21 to 18 years in 1995. According to the Basic Law, the constitution of the territory since 1997, stipulates that all permanent residents (a status conferred by birth or by seven years of residence) have the right to vote. The right of permanent residents who have right of abode in other countries to stand in election is, however, restricted to 12 functional constituencies by the Legislative Council Ordinance of 1997.
The right to vote and the right to stand in elections are not equal. Less than 250,000 of the electorate are eligible to run in the 30 functional constituencies, of which 23 are elected by less than 80,000 of the electorate, and in the 2008 Legislative Council election 14 members were elected unopposed from these functional constituencies. The size of the electorates of some constituencies are less than 200. Only people who can demonstrate a connection to the sector are eligible to run in a functional constituency.
The Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2012, if passed, amends the Legislative Council Ordinance to restrict the right to stand in Legislative Council by-elections in geographical constituencies and the District Council (Second) functional constituency. In addition to people who are mentally disabled, bankrupted, or imprisoned, members who resign their seats will not have the right to stand within six months' time from their resignation. The bill is currently passing through the committee stage.
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 other New Zealanders. The number of seats did not reflect the size of the Māori population, but Māori men who met the property requirement for general electorates were able to vote in them or in the Māori electorates but not both.
1910 — The Union of South Africa is established by the South Africa Act 1909. The House of Assembly is elected by first-past-the-post voting in single-member constituencies. The franchise qualifications are the same as those previously existing for elections of the legislatures of the colonies that comprised the Union. In the Transvaal and the Orange Free State the franchise is limited to white men. In Natal the franchise is limited to men meeting property and literacy qualifications; it was theoretically colour-blind but in practise nearly all non-white men were excluded. The traditional "Cape Qualified Franchise" of the Cape Province is limited to men meeting property and literacy qualifications and is colour-blind; nonetheless 85% of voters are white. The rights of non-white voters in the Cape Province are protected by an entrenched clause in the South Africa Act requiring a two-thirds vote in a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament.
1931 — The Franchise Laws Amendment Act, 1931 removes the property and literacy qualifications for all white men over the age of 21, but they are retained for non-white voters.
1936 — The Representation of Natives Act, 1936 removes black voters in the Cape Province from the common voters' roll and instead allows them to elect three "Native Representative Members" to the House of Assembly. Four Senators are to be indirectly elected by chiefs and local authorities to represent black South Africans throughout the country. The act is passed with the necessary two-thirds majority in a joint sitting.
1951 — The Separate Representation of Voters Act, 1951 is passed by Parliament by an ordinary majority in separate sittings. It purports to remove coloured voters in the Cape Province from the common voters' roll and instead allow them to elect four "Coloured Representative Members" to the House of Assembly.
1956 — By packing the Senate and the Appellate Division, the government passes the South Africa Act Amendment Act, 1956, reversing the annulment of the Separate Representation of Voters Act and giving it the force of law.
1969 — The first election of the Coloured Persons Representative Council (CPRC), which has limited legislative powers, is held. Every Coloured citizen over the age of 21 can vote for it, in first-past-the-post elections in single-member constituencies.
1978 — The voting age for the CPRC is reduced from 21 to 18.
1981 — The first election of the South African Indian Council (SAIC), which has limited legislative powers, is held. Every Indian South African citizen over the age of 18 can vote for it, in first-past-the-post elections in single-member constituencies.
1984 — The Constitution of 1983 establishes the Tricameral Parliament. Two new Houses of Parliament are created, the House of Representatives to represent coloured citizens and the House of Delegates to represent Indian citizens. Every coloured and Indian citizen over the age of 18 can vote in elections for the relevant house. As with the House of Assembly, the members are elected by first-past-the-post voting in single-member constituencies. The CPRC and SAIC are abolished.
King Henry VI of England established in 1432 that only male owners of property worth at least forty shillings, a significant sum, were entitled to vote in a county. Changes were made to the details of the system, but there was no major reform until the Reform Act 1832. It was not until 1918 that all men over 21, and wealthy women won the right to vote, and it was not until 1928 that all women over 21 won the right to vote. Suffrage in the United Kingdom was slowly changed over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries through the use of the Reform Acts and the Representation of the People Acts, culminating in universal suffrage, excluding children and convicted prisoners.
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 rights
Reform Act 1867 - extended the franchise to men in urban areas who met a property qualification, so increasing male suffrage to the United Kingdom
Representation of the People Act 1884 - addressed imbalances between the boroughs and the countryside; this brought the voting population to 5,500,000, although 40% of males were still disenfranchised because of the property qualification.
Representation 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. All men aged 21 and over were given the right to vote. Property restrictions for voting were lifted for men. Votes were given to 40% of women, with property restrictions and limited to those over 30 years old. This increased the electorate from 7.7 million to 21.4 million with women making up 8.5 million of the electorate. Seven percent of the electorate had more than one vote. The first election with this system was the United Kingdom general election, 1918
In the United States, suffrage is determined by the separate states, not federally (Wyoming being the first state to instill suffrage). However, the "right to vote" is expressly mentioned in five Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These five Amendments limit the basis on which the right to vote may be abridged or denied:
15th 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 servitude."
19th 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."
24th 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."
26th 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 age."
^Finland was the first nation in the world to give all (adult) citizens full suffrage, in other words the right to vote and to run for office (in 1906). New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant all (adult) citizens the right to vote (in 1893), but women did not get the right to run for the New Zealand legislature until 1919.
Vote sizing is different from the suffrage (vote counting) reform movements, in that each voter's political voice can be altered; whereas vote counting usually maintains that each voter only gets one (or equal amounts) vote.
Article 29.3: The supremacy of the purposes and principles of the United Nations
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.