Suffrage (from the Latin suffragium, meaning "voting tablet", and figuratively "right to vote", and originally a term for the pastern bone used to cast votes) is the civil right to vote, or the exercise of that right. It is also called political franchise or simply the franchise. Suffrage may apply to elections, but also extends to initiatives and referendums. 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 Union).
Where Universal suffrage exists, 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 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), and then by New 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.
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", 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, including, for instance, women 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 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 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 run for office. The 1673 and 1678 Test Acts forbade non-Anglicans from holding public offices, the 1727 Disenfranchising Act took away Catholics' (Papists') 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 next year. Nonconformists (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 Disraeli 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 colonies, even 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 war-time 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 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 Romanian citizens.
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 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, prior to 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. The sovereign is also ineligible to vote in British parliamentary elections.
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:
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.
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 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, 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 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 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 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 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 others' local and European Parliament elections on the same basis as citizens of the country in question.
In some countries, naturalized citizens do not enjoy the right of vote and/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 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.
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.
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.
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 and the Representation of the People Acts.
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:
SUFFRAGE (Lat. sufragium), the right or the exercise of the right of voting in political affairs; in a more general sense, an expression of opinion, assent or approval; in ecclesiastical use, the short intercessory prayers in litanies spoken or sung by the people as distinguished from those of the priest or minister. (See Representation; Vote And Voting, and Registration: and, for the Women's Suffrage Movement, Women: § Political Rights.) The etymology of the Latin word suiragium has been much discussed. It is usually referred to sub- and the root of frangere, to break, and its original meaning must thus have been a piece of broken tile or a potsherd on which the names or initials of the candidates were inscribed and used as a voting tablet or tabella. There is, however, no direct evidence that this was ever the practice in the case of voting upon legislation in the assembly (see W. Corssen, Lieber Aussprache, &c., der Lateinischen Sprache, i. 397, and Mommsen, Romische Geschichte, iii. 412 n. i.).
Suffrage is the right to vote. Most countries allow citizens to vote once they are legally an adult. In the past not all people were allowed to vote. In general, most countries today do not stop people of a different race or sex from voting.