AskDefine | Define suffrage

Dictionary Definition

suffrage n : a legal right guaranteed by the 15th amendment to the US constitution; guaranteed to women by the 19th amendment; "American women got the vote in 1920" [syn: right to vote, vote]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin suffragium, 'support, vote, right of voting'.




  1. A kind of prayer.
  2. A vote in deciding a particular question.
  3. The right or chance to vote, express an opinion, or participate in a decision.



the right to vote

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Suffrage (from the Latin suffragium, meaning "voting tablet", and figuratively "right to vote"; probably from suffrago "hough", and originally a term for the pastern bone used to cast votes) is the civil right to vote, or the exercise of that right. In that context, it is also called political franchise or simply the franchise. In most democracies citizens or subjects above the voting age can normally vote in its elections. 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).

Types of suffrage

Universal suffrage

Universal suffrage is the term used to describe a situation in which the right to vote is not restricted by race, gender, belief 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 republics of Tavolara (1886-1899) and 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.

Women's suffrage

Women's suffrage is the right of women to vote on the same terms as men. This was the goal of the suffragists and the "Suffragettes". The first major country to give women the vote in national elections was New Zealand in 1893, although various states and territories in Australia and the United States had given women the vote prior to this. The first major country to give women the right to stand for election as well as to vote was Australia in 1902 and the first major European country was Finland in 1906.

Manhood suffrage

Manhood suffrage is the right of adult men of all classes, ethnicities, races, and religions to vote unless disqualified by mental illness or criminal conviction.

Equal suffrage

Equal suffrage is a term 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.

Census 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). The 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.

Compulsory suffrage

Compulsory suffrage is a system where those who are eligible to vote are required by law to do so. Australia practises this form of suffrage.

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, stand for election or sit in parliament. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, Roman Catholics were denied the right to vote until 1788, 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 being admitted to vote or to run for an election. 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, only restored in 1788. Jews could not even be naturalized, an attempt to change this situation, the Jewish Naturalization Act 1753 provoked such reactions that it was repealed next year. Nonconformists (Methodists and Presbyterians) were only allowed to run for elections to the British House of Commons in 1828, Catholics in 1829 (Catholic Relief Act 1829), Jews in 1858 (Emancipation of the Jews in England). Benjamin Disraeli, often labelled as "Jewish", 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, including after the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Jews, Quakers or Catholics were excluded from the voting rights and/or from running for elections. 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, section2. 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 of 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 is granted on a case-by-case basis and was subject to Parliament approval. An application took over ten years to process. Only in 1923 a new constitution was adopted, whose article 133 extended Romanian citizenship to all Jewish residents and equal­ity of rights to all Romanian citizens.
In the Republic of Maldives, only Muslim Maldivian citizens have voting rights and are eligible for parliamentary elections.

Wealth, Tax class, Social class

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 test" in some states of the US.
Such practises were sometimes abandoned after protests about racial bias, see also the next section ("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:
  • Official - laws and regulations passed specifically disenfranchising people of particular races (for example, indigenous Australians until 1967, and South Africa under apartheid).
  • Indirect - nothing in law specifically prevents anyone from voting on account of their race, but other laws or regulations are used to exclude people of a particular race. In southern American states before the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, literacy and other tests were used to disenfranchise African-Americans. Property qualifications have tended to disenfranchise non-whites, particularly if tribally-owned land is not allowed to be taken into consideration. In some cases (such as early colonial New Zealand) property qualifications were deliberately used to disenfranchise non-whites; in other cases this was an unintended (but not usually unwelcome) consequence.
  • Unofficial - nothing in law prevents anyone from voting on account of their race, but people of particular races are intimidated or otherwise prevented from exercising this right.


All modern democracies require voters to meet age qualifications to vote. Worldwide voting ages are not consistent, fluctuating 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. provisions found in many parts of continental Europe) the denial of the right to vote is an additional penalty that the court can choose to impose, over and above the penalty of imprisonment, such as in France or Germany. 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 a kind which cannot participate. In the United States, residents of Washington, DC receive no voting representation in Congress and only three electoral votes, while 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).


main Right of foreigners to vote 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.
In Morocco, a former French protectorate, and in Guinea, a former French colony, naturalized citizens are prohibited from voting for 5 years after their naturalization.
In the Federated States of Micronesia, Micronesian citizenship for a minimum of 15 years is an eligibility condition to be elected to the parliament.
In Nicaragua, Peru and the Philippines, only citizens by birth are eligible for parliamentary elections, naturalized citizens enjoy only voting rights.
In Uruguay, naturalized citizens have the right of eligibility to the parliament after 5 years.


In France, a 1872 law, only rescinded by a 1945 decree, prohibited all army personnel from voting.
In the United Kingdom, public servants have to resign before running for an election.
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.".

History of suffrage around the world

History of suffrage in Canada

  • 1916 - Manitoba becomes the first province where women have the right to vote in provincial elections.
  • 1918 - Women gain full voting rights in federal elections.
  • 1919 - Women gain the right to run for federal office.
  • 1948 - Racial exclusions are removed from election laws.
  • 1955 - Religious exclusions are removed from election laws.
  • 1960 - Right to vote is extended unconditionally to First Nations people. (Previously they could vote only by giving up their status as First Nations people; this requirement was removed.)
  • 1960 - Right to vote in advance is extended to all electors willing to swear they would be absent on election day.
  • 1970 - Voting age lowered from 21 to 18.
  • 1982 - Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees all adult citizens the right to vote.
  • 1993 - Any elector can vote in advance.

History of suffrage in New Zealand

  • 1853 - British government passes the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, granting limited self rule, including a bicameral parliament to the colony. The vote was limited to male British subjects aged 21 or over who owned or rented sufficient property, and were not imprisoned for a serious offence. Communally owned land was excluded from the property qualification, thus disenfranchising most Māori (indigenous) men.
  • 1860 - Franchise extended to holders of miner's licenses who met all voting qualifications except that of property.
  • 1867 - Māori seats established, giving Mãori four reserved seats in the lower house. There was no property qualification; thus Mãori men gained universal suffrage before any other group of New Zealanders. However, the number of seats did not reflect the size of the Māori population.
  • 1879 - Property requirement abolished.
  • 1893 - Women given equal voting rights with men.
  • 1969 - Voting age lowered to 20.
  • 1974 - Voting age lowered to 18.
  • 1975 - Franchise extended to permanent residents of New Zealand, regardless of whether they have citizenship.
  • 1996 - Number of Māori seats increased to reflect Māori population.

History of suffrage in the United Kingdom

see also History of British society 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.

History of suffrage in the United States

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:
  • 15th Amendment (1870): "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."
  • 19th Amendment (1920): "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 sex."
  • 24th Amendment (1964): "The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."
  • 26th Amendment (1971): "The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age."
In addition, the 23rd Amendment (1961): provides that residents of the District of Columbia can vote for the President and Vice-President.



  • Neill Atkinson, Adventures in Democracy: A History of the Vote in New Zealand (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2003).
  • Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (New York: Basic Books, 2000). ISBN 0-465-02968-X
  • U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Reports on Voting (2005) ISBN 978-0837731032
  • "Smallest State in the World," New York Times, June 19 1896, p 6
  • A History of the Vote in Canada, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, 2007.

External links

suffrage in Arabic: حق التصويت
suffrage in Catalan: Sufragi
suffrage in Czech: Volební právo
suffrage in Danish: Valgret
suffrage in German: Wahlrecht
suffrage in Estonian: Hääleõigus
suffrage in Spanish: Sufragio
suffrage in Esperanto: Balotrajto
suffrage in French: Droit de vote
suffrage in Korean: 참정권
suffrage in Croatian: Biračko pravo
suffrage in Indonesian: Hak suara
suffrage in Icelandic: Kosningaréttur
suffrage in Italian: Suffragio
suffrage in Hebrew: זכות בחירה
suffrage in Hungarian: Választójog
suffrage in Dutch: Stemrecht
suffrage in Japanese: 参政権
suffrage in Norwegian: Stemmerett
suffrage in Norwegian Nynorsk: Røysterett
suffrage in Polish: Czynne prawo wyborcze
suffrage in Russian: Активное избирательное право
suffrage in Slovenian: Volilna pravica
suffrage in Finnish: Äänioikeus
suffrage in Swedish: Rösträtt
suffrage in Chinese: 选举权

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Australian ballot, Hare system, association, aye, ballot, canvass, canvassing, casting vote, choice, cochairmanship, complicity, condominium, contribution, copartnership, copartnery, cotenancy, counting heads, cumulative voting, deciding vote, division, enfranchisement, engagement, fagot vote, female suffrage, franchise, graveyard vote, hand vote, having a part, household franchise, involvement, joint chairmanship, joint control, joint ownership, joint tenancy, list system, manhood suffrage, nay, no, nontransferable vote, option, partaking, participation, partnership, plebiscite, plebiscitum, plumper, plural vote, poll, polling, preferential voting, proportional representation, proxy, record vote, referendum, representation, right to vote, rising vote, say, secret ballot, sharing, show of hands, single vote, snap vote, straw vote, suffragette, suffragettism, suffragism, suffragist, the vote, transferable vote, universal suffrage, viva voce, voice, voice vote, vote, voting, voting right, woman-suffragist, write-in, write-in vote, yea, yeas and nays, yes
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