Universal suffrage

Universal suffrage (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, or any other restriction, subject only to relatively minor exceptions.[1][2] In its original 19th-century usage by reformers in Britain, universal suffrage was understood to mean only universal manhood suffrage; the vote was extended to women later, during the women's suffrage movement.[3][4]

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.[2]

The first female MPs in the world were elected in Finland in 1907.

In most countries, universal suffrage (the right to vote but not necessarily the right to be a candidate) followed about a generation after universal adult franchise. Notable exceptions in Europe were France, where women could not vote until 1944, Greece (1952), and Switzerland (1971).

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. In the 19th century in Europe, Great Britain and North America, there were movements advocating "universal [male] suffrage".

The U.S. Congress together with the Warren Court continued to protect and expand the voting rights of all Americans, especially African Americans, through Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965 and several Supreme Court rulings.[5][6] In addition, the term "suffrage" is also associated specifically with women's suffrage, a movement to extend the franchise to women began in the mid-nineteenth century and culminated in 1920, when the United States ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing the right of women to vote.

Expanding suffrage

Voting is an important part of the formal democratic process.
The European Parliament is the only supranational organ elected with universal suffrage (since 1979).

France, under the 1793 Jacobin constitution, was the first major country to enact suffrage for all adult males, though it was never formally used in practice (the subsequent election occurring in 1795 after the fall of the Jacobin government in 1794). Elsewhere in the Francophone world, the Republic of Haiti legislated for universal male suffrage in 1816.[7] The Second French Republic instituted adult male suffrage after the revolution of 1848.

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.[8] 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. [9] 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.[10][11] 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 1830. 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.[citation needed]

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;[12] violence and terrorism were used to intimidate some would-be voters.[13] Southern blacks did not effectively receive the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[12]

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.[14]

In 1902 the Commonwealth of Australia become the first country to grant full suffrage for women, i.e. the first country in the world to give women the rights both to vote and to run for office.[15] However, Australia did not implement universal suffrage at this time - Aboriginal Australians did not get the right to vote until 1962, because in the early 20th century Australian law did not considered them human.

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 of 1914-1918.

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).

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