(also called universal franchise
, general suffrage
, and common suffrage of the common man
) gives the right to vote
to all adult citizens
, regardless of wealth, income, gender, social status, race
, ethnicity, political stance, or any other restriction, subject only to relatively minor exceptions.
In its original 19th-century usage by reformers
, universal suffrage
was understood to mean only universal manhood suffrage
; the vote was extended to women later, during the women's suffrage
There are variations among countries in terms of specifics of the right to vote; the minimum age is usually between 18 and 25 years (see age of majority
) and "the insane, certain classes of convicted criminals, and those punished for certain electoral offenses" sometimes lack the right to vote.
In the first modern democracies
, governments restricted the vote to those with property and wealth, which almost always meant a minority of the male population.
In some jurisdictions, other restrictions existed, such as requiring voters to practice a given religion.
In all modern democracies, the number of people who could vote has increased progressively with time.
The 19th century saw many movements advocating "universal [male] suffrage", most notably in Europe, Great Britain and North America.
The European Parliament
is the only supranational organ elected with universal suffrage (since 1979).
Following the French revolutions, movements in the Western world toward universal suffrage occurred in the early 19th century, and focused on removing property requirements for voting. In 1867 Germany (the North German Confederation
) enacted suffrage for all adult males. In the United States following the American Civil War
, slaves were freed and granted rights of citizens
, including suffrage for adult males
(although several states established restrictions largely, though not completely, diminishing these rights). In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, the focus of the universal suffrage movement
came to include the extension of the right to vote to women
, as happened from the post-Civil War era in several Western states
and during the 1890s in a number of British colonies.
On 19 September 1893 the British Governor of New Zealand, Lord Glasgow
, gave assent to a new electoral act, which meant that New Zealand
became the first British-controlled colony in which women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
This was followed shortly after by the colony of South Australia
in 1894, which was the second to allow women to vote, but the first colony to permit women to stand for election as well.
Twelve years later, the autonomous Russian territory known as Grand Duchy of Finland
(which became the Republic of Finland in 1917) became the first territory in the world to implement unrestricted universal suffrage, as women could stand as candidates, unlike in New Zealand, and without indigenous ethnic exclusion, like in Australia. It also lead to the election of the world's first female members of parliament the following year
Federal states and colonial or autonomous territories prior to World War I
have multiple examples of early introduction of universal suffrage. However, these legal changes were effected with the permission of the British, Russian or other government bodies, which were considered the sovereign nation at the time. For this reason, Australia (1901), New Zealand (1908) and Finland (1917) all have different dates of achieving independent nationhood.
The First French Republic
adopted universal male suffrage briefly in 1792; it was one of the first national systems that abolished all property requirements as a prerequisite for allowing men to register and vote. Greece recognized full male suffrage in 1844.
Spain recognized it in the Constitution of 1869
and France and Switzerland have continuously done so since the 1848 Revolution
(for resident male citizens). Upon independence in the 19th century, several Latin-American countries and Liberia in Africa initially extended suffrage to all adult males, but subsequently restricted it based on property requirements. The German Empire
implemented full male suffrage in 1871.
In the United States, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
, ratified in 1870 during the Reconstruction era
, provided that "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." This amendment aimed to guarantee the right to vote to African Americans
, many of whom had been enslaved
in the South
prior to the end (1865) of the American Civil War
and the 1864–1865 abolition of slavery
. Despite the amendment, however, blacks were disfranchised
in the former Confederate states after 1877
; Southern officials ignored the amendment and blocked black citizens from voting through a variety of devices, including poll taxes
, literacy tests
, and grandfather clauses
violence and terrorism
were used to intimidate some would-be voters.
Southern blacks did not effectively receive the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965
In 1893 the self-governing colony New Zealand became the first country in the world (except for the short-lived 18th-century Corsican Republic
) to grant active universal suffrage by giving women the right to vote. It did not grant universal full suffrage (the right to both vote and be a candidate, or both active and passive suffrage) until 1919.
In 1902 the Commonwealth of Australia
become the first country to grant full suffrage for women, i.e. the rights both to vote and to run for office.
However, Australia did not implement universal suffrage at this time – Aboriginal Australians
did not get the right to vote until 1962.
Several European nations that had enacted universal suffrage had their normal legal process, or their status as independent nations, interrupted during and after the First World War
Many societies in the past have denied or abridged political representation on the basis of race or ethnicity, related to discriminatory ideas about citizenship. For example, in apartheid
-era South Africa
, non-white people
could generally not vote in national elections until the first multi-party elections in 1994
(except under the Cape Qualified Franchise
, which was replaced by a number of separate MPs
in 1936 (Blacks) and 1958 (Coloureds), later by the Tricameral Parliament
). Rhodesia enacted a similar statute in its proclaimed independence
of 1965, which however allowed a smaller number of representatives for the considerably larger Black majority (under its 1961 constitution, the voting classes had been based on socio-economic standards, which marginalized most Black and a few White voters to a separate set of constituencies, under the principle of weighted voting
; this was replaced in 1969 by an openly racial franchise, with delegated all Blacks to the 'B' voters roll).
Dates by country
States have granted and revoked universal suffrage at various times. This list can be organised in three ways:
- Universal There are no distinctions between voters over a certain age in any part of its territories due to gender, literacy, wealth, social status, religion, race, or ethnicity.
- Male is for all males over a certain age in the majority ethnic or sectarian group irrespective of literacy, wealth, or social status.
- Female is for when all women over a certain age can vote on the same terms as men
- Ethnicity is for when all eligible voters over a certain age can vote on the same terms as the majority group irrespective of religion, race, or ethnicity.
Since historically one group or another might have lost suffrage rights only to regain them later on. This table lists the last uninterrupted time from the present a group was granted the right to vote; if that group's suffrage has been fully restored.
Note: The table can be sorted alphabetically or chronologically using the icons.
Universal suffrage by country or territory
, women's suffrage was granted in 1755 and lasted until 1769.
Women's suffrage (with the same property qualifications as for men) was granted in New Jersey
in 1776 (the word "inhabitants" was used instead of "men" in the 1776 Constitution) and rescinded in 1807.
The Pitcairn Islands
granted restricted women's suffrage in 1838. Various other countries and states granted restricted women's suffrage in the later half of the nineteenth century, starting with South Australia
The first unrestricted women's suffrage in a major country was granted in New Zealand
The women's suffrage bill was adopted mere weeks before the general election
of 1893. Māori men had been granted suffrage in 1867, white men in 1879. The Freedom in the World
index lists New Zealand as the only free country in the world in 1893.
first granted women suffrage and allowed them to stand for parliament in 1894.
The autonomous Grand Principality of Finland
, a decade before becoming the republic of Finland, was the first country in the world to implement full universal suffrage, by giving women full political rights, i.e. both the right to vote and to run for office, and was the second in the world and the first in Europe to give women the right to vote.
The world's first female members of parliament were elected
in Finland the following year, 1907.
During a discussion on extending women's 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.
Youth suffrage, children's suffrage, and suffrage in school Democratic schools
practice and support universal suffrage in school, which allows a vote to every member of the school, including students and staff. Such schools hold that this feature is essential for students to be ready to move into society at large.
- ^ a b c While the USSR was not formally founded until 1922, a group of socialist republics under the influence of Soviet Russia existed for several years before that.
- ^ Over the years suffrage increased and decreased based on the introduction, repeal and reintroduction of various degrees of universal, property and census-based suffrage. Universal male suffrage was given in 1848 and in 1944 women had equal universal suffrage rights to men. By 1945 the military obtained the right to vote in 1945.
- ^ While in 1792 the Convention assembly granted all French males over 21 universal suffrage rights, these rights were later repealed. Universal male suffrage was last given in 1848. It should also be noted that those serving in the military obtained the right to vote in 1945.
- ^ In 1792, the Convention assembly was elected by all French males 21 and over regardless of one's ethnicity. While not an ethnicity, those serving in the military obtained the right to vote in 1945.
- ^ a b the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 reflects eligibility for office, not the eligibility to vote.
- ^ a b Until the Reform Act 1832 specified 'male persons', a few women had been able to vote in parliamentary elections through property ownership, although this was rare. In local government elections, women lost the right to vote under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. Unmarried women ratepayers received the right to vote in the Municipal Franchise Act 1869. This right was confirmed in the Local Government Act 1894 and extended to include some married women. By 1900, over 1 million women were registered for local government elections in England.
- ^ While local government gerrymandering in Northern Ireland was one of the factors which led to the Troubles, parliamentary elections still took place for all British citizens. In 1972 the British Parliament was unwilling to grant the mostly Protestant unionist Northern Ireland government more authoritarian special powers since it was now convinced of its inability to restore order. So they suspended the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the post of Governor and made provision for direct rule by the elected government of the United Kingdom.
- ^ Graduates of universities lost the right to vote in university constituencies as well as parliamentary boroughs and property owners lost the right to vote both in the constituency where their property lay and that in which they lived, if the two were different. For elections to the Parliament of Northern Ireland, these changes were made under the Electoral Law Act 1968.
- ^ a b While constitutionally given the right to vote by the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 and 19th Amendment in 1920, the reality of the country was such that most African Americans and some poor whites could not vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Starting in 1888 Southern states legalized disenfranchisement by enacting Jim Crow laws; they amended their constitutions and passed legislation to impose various voting restrictions, including literacy tests, poll taxes, property-ownership requirements, moral character tests, requirements that applicants interpret a particular document, and grandfather clauses that allowed otherwise-ineligible persons to vote if their grandfathers voted (which excluded many African Americans whose grandfathers had been ineligible). During this period, the Supreme Court generally upheld state efforts to discriminate against racial minorities. In Giles v. Harris (1903), the Court held that irrespective of the Fifteenth Amendment, the judiciary did not have the remedial power to force states to register racial minorities to vote. The Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 gave Native Americans the right to vote and officially recognized them as citizens, nearly two-thirds of whom already had citizenship and the right to vote. In 1943 Chinese immigrants were given the right to citizenship and the right to vote by the Magnuson Act. African Americans and others gained full enfranchisement through passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- ^ The 1828 presidential election was the first in which non-property-holding white males could vote in the vast majority of states, but this was not consistent across the country until the last state, North Carolina, abolished property qualification in 1856 resulting in a close approximation to universal white male suffrage (however tax-paying requirements remained in five states in 1860 and survived in two states until the 20th century). The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 altered the way each state is represented in the House of Representatives. It counted all residents for apportionment including slaves, overriding the three-fifths compromise, and reduced a state's apportionment if it wrongfully denied males over the age of 21 the right to vote; however, this was not enforced in practice. Some poor white men remained excluded at least until 1965. For state elections, it was not until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) that all state poll taxes were unconstitutional as violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This removed a burden on the poor.
- ^ 19th Amendment in 1920 prohibited any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex, but most African-American women some poor white women remained excluded at least until 1965. For state elections, it was not until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) that all state poll taxes were unconstitutional as violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This removed a burden on the poor.
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