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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 France 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 and Switzerland have used universal male suffrage continuously since 1848 (for resident male citizens), longer than any other countries.

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

Voting is an important part of the formal democratic process.

Ronald 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 USA used to disenfranchise paupers, persons who either paid no direct taxes or those receiving public assistance.[1]

There are also differing degrees of legal recognition of non-resident citizens: non-resident Italians 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 parliament 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.[2]

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 Algeria 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 Graz, Austria, 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 Styrian (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 Commons.

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 Sort none.gif icon.

Universal suffrage by country/territory
Year Country / Territory Notes
1792 France Universal male suffrage used in 1792, for the National Convention, enacted by law in 1793 and lost with the advent of the Directoire
1848 France 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
1848 Switzerland Universal male suffrage introduced at the formation of the federal state
1867 Germany 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, USA 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 Bulgaria 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 France and Britain and is now part of Vanuatu.
1893 New Zealand 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 Māori men over 21 granted 1867; extended to European males 1879.[3]
1894 South Australia 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,[4] 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 Empire, 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). Finland became independent with the same Universal Suffrage in 1917. However, universal suffrage was only extended to local elections after independence.
1907 Austria Equal suffrage for men
1913 Norway Including women, first independent nation to also allow women as candidates.
1915 Denmark 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 Estonia Two tiered elections were held, with 62 representatives from rural communities and towns elected in May-June and July-August, respectively.
1918 Canada All women were granted the right to vote, and since 1920 a uniform federal franchise was created;[5] Last to enact women's suffrage provincially was Quebec in 1940; status Indians gained the right to vote in 1960.
1918 United Kingdom All males over the age of 21 were granted the right to vote and women over 30, with some property restrictions.
1918 Soviet Union With the 1918 Soviet Constitution; direct voting and the lifting of some political restrictions not until the 1936 Soviet Constitution.
1918 Austria After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I universal suffrage including women.
1918 Czechoslovakia After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I
1918 Germany After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I and the introduction of a democratic system, the Weimar Republic. 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 Empire (and the North German Confederation 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 Hungary After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I
1919 Democratic Republic of Armenia became part of the Soviet Union in 1920
1919 Azerbaijan Democratic Republic became part of the Soviet Union in 1920
1919 Democratic Republic of Georgia became part of the Soviet Union in 1921
1919 Poland
1919 Luxembourg
1919 Netherlands universal male suffrage in 1917
1921 Sweden 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 Lithuania
1922 Republic of Ireland 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 Japan universal male suffrage enacted
1928 United Kingdom Universal suffrage for all.
1931 Ceylon (now as Sri Lanka) Indian Tamils disenfranchised 1949
1932 Brazil Replaced the previous system of male suffrage, from 1891, which excluded homeless, women, priests, the military and illiterates.
1933 Spain 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 Turkey
1935 Burma Last free elections held in 1990.[6]
1944 France Universal suffrage including women introduced
1944 Jamaica Universal suffrage for all adult males and females
1945 Bulgaria Universal suffrage including women and men serving in the Army was instituted by the government of the Fatherland front.
1945 Italy Universal male suffrage 1912 for people 30 or older, 1918 for people 21 or older
1945 Japan Universal suffrage including women introduced
1947 Republic of China (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 Israel Universal suffrage since the founding of the State of Israel.
1948 South Korea
1948 Belgium
1950 India All adult citizens as recognized by the Constitution of India, irrespective of race or gender.
1951 Argentina Universal male suffrage granted in 1912; universal women's suffrage introduced in 1947.
1951 Ghana Universal suffrage granted for the 1951 legislative election.
1952 Greece Universal male suffrage in 1864, with secret ballot; women given the vote in local elections since 1930 and in parliamentary elections since 1952.
1955 Indonesia
1955 Malaysia
1956 Colombia Electorate defined on the basis of adult franchise and joint electorate.
1956 Pakistan
1963 Iran Reforms under Shah's "White Revolution"
1964 Afghanistan Constitution transformed Afghanistan into a modern democracy.[7]
1965 United States 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 façade 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 Switzerland Introduction of women's suffrage at the federal level; for cantonal elections this was not completed until 1990.
1976 Portugal
1979 European Community (now European Union)
1980 Zimbabwe 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 Liechtenstein
1990 Samoa
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 Taiwan
2002 Bahrain Universal male suffrage in 1973, although parliament was suspended and dissolved in 1975 for approximately 30 years.
2003 Oman
2005 Kuwait 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. Limited, will be fully expanded by 2010.[8]
2008 Bhutan
2010 (planned) Qatar Municipal elections since 1999.
2017 (planned)[9] Hong Kong

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 Jersey in 1776 (the word "inhabitants" was used instead of "men") 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 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.

Youth's suffrage, children's suffrage and suffrage in school

Democratic schools practice and support universal suffrage in school. This is the idea that everybody, every member of the school, student and staff, has a vote. It is really a simple idea, as opposed to the idea of democracy as it is sold in Academia, in the heart of the educational system, where the idea is a Greek one: democracy is for the privileged. Confusing the issue of subject matter with the issue of political power.

These schools adduce that this feature is essential for students to be ready to move right into society at large.[10][11]


  1. ^ Robert J. Steinfeld, "Property and Suffrage in the Early American Republic", Stanford Law Review, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Jan., 1989), pp. 335-376, p.335 et passim
  2. ^ CIA - The World Factbook - Kuwait
  3. ^ History of the Vote : Māori and the Vote
  4. ^ Attorney General (Cth); Ex rel McKinlay v Commonwealth (1975) 135 CLR 1; 7 ALR 593
  5. ^ Dyck, Rand. (2004). Canadian Politics: Critical Approaches Fifth Edition. Thomson & Nelson. Toronto, Canada
  6. ^ BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Country profiles | Timeline: Burma
  7. ^ BBC News | SOUTH ASIA | Profile: Ex-king Zahir Shah
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Greenberg, D. (1987) The Sudbury Valley School Experience, "Subtleties of a Democratic School." Retrieved February 21, 2010.
  11. ^ Greenberg, D. (1987) The Sudbury Valley School Experience "Back to Basics - Political basics.". Retrieved February 21, 2010.

See also

External links


Simple English

File:Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested while campaigning for universal suffrage.
Universal suffrage means that every citizen is allowed to vote. Most countries have universal suffrage, but some do not. In some countries people had to fight to get it. In other countries It was granted after demonstrations in the main cities. They thought it was important to have it because they wanted to choose who ruled over them. See Women's suffrage.


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