Suffrage universel dédié à Ledru-Rollin, Frédéric Sorrieu, 1850

Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise is the right to vote in public, political elections (although the term is sometimes used for any right to vote).[1][2][3] The right to run for office is sometimes called candidate eligibility, and the combination of both rights is sometimes called full suffrage.[4] 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.[5]

Suffrage is often conceived in terms of elections for representatives. However, suffrage applies equally to referenda and initiatives. 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 referendum may also be available. For example, in Switzerland this is permitted at all levels of government. In the United States, some 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. The United States federal government does not offer any initiatives at all.

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 differing rights to vote on the basis of sex or race. Resident non-citizens can vote in some countries, which may be restricted to citizens of closely linked countries (e.g., Commonwealth citizens and European Union citizens).[6]


The word suffrage comes from Latin suffragium, meaning "vote", "political support", and the right to vote.[7][8][9] 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 and fractious "quarrelsome"). Other sources say that attempts to connect suffragium with fragor cannot be taken seriously.[10] Some etymologists think the word may be related to suffrago and may have originally meant an ankle bone or knuckle bone.[10]


Universal suffrage

Main article: Universal suffrage

Universal suffrage consists of the right to vote without restriction due to sex, race, social status, education level, or wealth. It typically does not extend the 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 to all citizens 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 independent country to practice universal (active) suffrage, and the Freedom in the World index lists New Zealand as the only free country in the world in 1893.[11][12] In 1906, Finland became the second country in the world, and the first in Europe, to grant universal active suffrage to its citizens and the first in the world to grant universal full suffrage (active and passive suffrage) by being the first country in the world to grant women full political rights.[13][14] So Finland was the first country 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.

Women's suffrage

German election poster from 1919: Equal rights – equal duties!
Main article: Women's suffrage

Women's suffrage is, by definition, the right of women to vote.[15] This was the goal of the suffragists in the United States and the suffragettes in Great Britain. Short-lived suffrage equity was drafted into provisions of the State of New Jersey's first, 1776 Constitution, which extended the Right to Vote to unwed female landholders & black land owners.

"IV. That all inhabitants of this Colony, of full age, who are worth fifty pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same, and have resided within the county in which they claim a vote for twelve months immediately preceding the election, shall be entitled to vote for Representatives in Council and Assembly; and also for all other public officers, that shall be elected by the people of the county at large." New Jersey 1776

However, the document did not specify an Amendment procedure, and the provision was subsequently replaced in 1844 by the adoption of the succeeding constitution, which reverted to "all white male" suffrage restrictions.[16]

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 nation to allow all women to both vote and run for parliament.[17]

Equal suffrage

See also: Weighted voting

Equal suffrage is sometimes confused with Universal suffrage, although the meaning of the former is the removal of graded votes, wherein a voter could possess a number of votes in accordance with income, wealth or social status.[18]

Census suffrage

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 higher education have more votes than those with lower education, or a stockholder in a company with more shares has more votes than someone with fewer shares). Suffrage may therefore be limited, but can still be universal.

Compulsory suffrage

Main article: Compulsory suffrage

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 suffrage.[19]

Business vote

See also: Plural voting

In local government in England and some of its ex-colonies, businesses formerly had, and in some places still have, a vote in the urban area in which they paid rates. This is an extension of the historical property-based franchise from natural persons to other legal persons. In the United Kingdom, the Corporation of the City of London retains business votes, as the City of London is a major financial centre with few residents.[20] The first issue taken up by the Northern Ireland civil rights movement was the business vote, abolished in 1968.[21] In cities in most Australian states, voting is optional for businesses but compulsory for individuals.[22][23]

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 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 England and Ireland, several Acts practically disenfranchised non-Anglicans or non-Protestants by imposing an oath before admission to vote or to stand for office. The 1672 and 1678 Test Acts forbade non-Anglicans to hold public offices, and the 1727 Disenfranchising Act took away Catholics' 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 1753 provoked such reactions that it was repealed the following year. Nonconformists (Methodists and Presbyterians) were only allowed to run for election to the British House of Commons starting in 1828, Catholics in 1829 (following the Catholic Relief Act 1829, which extended the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1791), and Jews in 1858 (with the Emancipation of the Jews in England). Benjamin Disraeli could only begin his political career in 1837 because he had been converted to Anglicanism at the age of 12.

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.[24] 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."[25] 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".[26] 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",[27] 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".[28] In Maryland, voting rights and eligibility were extended to Jews in 1828.[29]

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 closure of the First World War, but was renewed for Doukhobors from 1934 (via the Dominion Elections Act) to 1955.[30]

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 from 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.[31]

In the Republic of Maldives, only Muslim citizens have voting rights and are eligible for parliamentary elections.[32]

Wealth, tax class, social class

Until the nineteenth century, many Western proto-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 weighted 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.

In the United Kingdom, until the House of Lords Act 1999, peers who were members of the House of Lords were excluded from voting for the House of Commons because they were not commoners.In Britain the Queen can vote, but in practice it is considered unconstitutional for the Monarch to vote in an election.


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 U.S.[33]


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:

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.


Main articles: Voting age and Age of candidacy

All modern democracies require voters to meet age qualifications to vote. Worldwide voting ages are not consistent, differing between countries and even within countries, though the range usually varies between 16 and 21 years. Demeny voting would extend voting rights to everyone including children regardless of age. The movement to lower the voting age is known as the Youth rights movement.


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 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 upon a felony conviction; in other cases (e.g. France and Germany) deprivation of the vote is meted out separately, and often limited to perpetrators of 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, which was granted in 2006. Canada allowed only prisoners serving a term of less than 2 years the right to vote, but this was found to be unconstitutional in 2002 by the Supreme Court of Canada in Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer), and all prisoners have been allowed to vote as of the 2004 Canadian federal election.


Under certain electoral systems elections are held within subnational jurisdictions, thus preventing persons from voting who would otherwise be eligible on the basis that 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, D.C. receive no voting representation in Congress, although they do have full representation in presidential elections, based on the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution adopted in 1961. Residents of Puerto Rico enjoy 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 for more than one and fewer 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).[35] Danish citizens that reside permanently outside Denmark lose their right to vote.[36]

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 granted 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 within 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 a 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.[37] Ordinary naturalized citizens and citizens who had acquired Belgian nationality through marriage could vote, but not run as candidates for parliamentary elections in 1976. The concepts of ordinary and grande naturalization were suppressed from the Constitution in 1991.[38]

In France, the 1889 Nationality Law barred those who had acquired the French nationality by naturalization or marriage from voting, and from eligibility and access to several public jobs. In 1938 the delay was reduced to five years.[39] [clarification needed] These instances of discrimination, 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 five years following their naturalization.[40][41]

In the Federated States of Micronesia, one must be a Micronesian citizen for at least 15 years to run for parliament.[42]

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.[43][44][45]

In Uruguay, naturalized citizens have the right of eligibility to the parliament after five years.[46]

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).


In France, an 1872 law, rescinded only by a 1945 decree, prohibited all army personnel from voting.[47]

In Ireland, police (the Garda Síochána and, before 1925, the Dublin Metropolitan Police) were barred from voting in national elections, though not local elections, from 1923 to 1960.[48]

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."[49]

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.

History around the world

In 1906 Finland became 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. 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.




(see Canadian women during the world wars for more information on Canadian suffrage)


Hong Kong

Minimum age to vote was reduced from 21 to 18 years in 1995. 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. Fewer than 250,000 of the electorate are eligible to run in the 30 functional constituencies, of which 23 are elected by fewer 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 is fewer than 200. Only persons 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 those persons who are mentally disabled, bankrupt, or imprisoned, members who resign their seats will not have the right to stand for six months' time from their resignation. The bill is currently passing through the committee stage.


Since the very first Indian general election held in 1951–52, universal suffrage for all adult citizens aged 21 or older was established under Article 326 of the Constitution of India. The minimum voting age was reduced to 18 years by the 61st Amendment, effective 28 March 1989.



The Supreme Court states that "the rules derogating from the passive electoral law must be strictly interpreted".[61]


Main article: Suffrage in Japan

New Zealand



South Africa

United Kingdom

King Henry VI of England established in 1432 that only owners of property worth at least forty shillings, a significant sum, were entitled to vote in a county. The franchise was restricted to males by custom rather than statute.[62] Changes were made to the details of the system, but there was no major reform until the Reform Act 1832.[nb 1] A series of Reform Acts and Representation of the People Acts followed. In 1918, all men over 21 and women over 30 won the right to vote, and in 1928 all women over 21 won the right to vote resulting in universal suffrage.[64]

United States

The Constitution did not originally define who was eligible to vote, allowing each state to decide this status. In the early history of the U.S., most states allowed only white male adult property owners to vote (about 6% of the population).[65][66] By 1856 property ownership requirements were eliminated in all states, giving suffrage to most adult white males. However, tax-paying requirements remained in five states until 1860 and in two states until the 20th century.[67][68]

After the Civil War, five amendments to the Constitution were expressly addressed to the "right to vote"; these amendments limit the basis upon which the right to vote in any U.S. state or other jurisdiction may be abridged or denied.[nb 2]

Full enfranchisement of citizens was not secured until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gained passage through Congress following the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1954–68).

Majority-Muslim countries

See also



  1. Until this Act specified 'male persons', a few women had been able to vote in parliamentary elections through property ownership, although this was rare.[63]
  2. The 14th Amendment (1868) altered the way each state is represented in the House of Representatives. It counted all residents for apportionment including former slaves, overriding the three-fifths compromise of the original Constitution; it also reduced a state's apportionment if it wrongfully denied the right to vote to males over age 21. However, this sanction was not enforced in practice.


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