Universal adult suffrage

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), though it may also mean extending that right to minors (Demeny voting) 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 frequency that an incumbent government consults the electorate. Where universal suffrage exists, the right to vote is not restricted by race, sex, belief, wealth, or social status.

New Zealand became the first nation in the world to recognize universal, male and female adult suffrage in 1893.[1] Historically, however, universal suffrage usually referred to adult male suffrage. The first system to explicitly claim to use universal [male] suffrage was in France, and this is generally recognized as the first national system to abolish all property requirements to allow men to vote. Republican France first instituted full male suffrage in 1792. France and Switzerland have recognized full male suffrage continuously since 1848 (for resident male citizens). The German Empire implemented full male suffrage from 1871.

In most countries, full universal suffrage followed about 10 to 20 years after full male suffrage. Notable exceptions were France, where women could not vote until 1945, Italy (1946), Belgium (1948) and Switzerland (1971 in federal elections and 1990 in all cantonal elections).

In the first modern democracies, the vote was restricted to those with 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 progressively with time. The 19th century saw movements advocating "universal [male] suffrage". The democratic movement of the late 19th century, unifying liberals and social democrats, particularly in northern Europe, used the slogan Equal and Common Suffrage.

Universal suffrage requires the right to vote to be granted to all citizens. Some countries, however, do not give the vote to certain categories of people. This includes felony disenfranchisement and disenfranchisement based on resident status.

Expanding suffrage

The first movements toward universal suffrage occurred in the early 19th century, and focused on removing property requirements for voting. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the focus of the universal suffrage movement was the extension of the right to vote to women.

Several countries which had enacted universal suffrage had their normal legal process, or their existence, interrupted during the First 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 in apartheid-era South Africa, until the first free multi-party elections in 1994. In the pre-Civil Rights Era American South, African Americans often technically had the right to vote, but various obstacles prevented many of them from exercising that right.


Main article: Disfranchisement

All US states, with the exceptions of Maine and Vermont, disenfranchise some felons from voting depending on their current incarceration, parole or probation status; a number US states permanently disenfranchise some felons, even after their release from prison.[2] Many states within the U.S. previously disenfranchised paupers, persons who either paid no direct taxes or received public assistance.[3]

There are also differing degrees of legal recognition of non-resident citizens: non-resident Italians have representatives 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.[4] A few nations also restrict those who are involved in the military or police forces, e.g. Kuwait.[5]

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 one, but very few did as it was considered apostasy from Islam, the dominant religion in Algeria.

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 entitled to vote 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 entitled 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.

In Israel non-Jewish residents of the occupied territories are not Israeli citizens, and therefore cannot vote, although they are under Israeli rule and jurisdiction. Jewish settlers to these areas retain their citizenship, and can continue to vote.

Criticism of universal suffrage

In recent years, some journalists have expressed their criticism of universal suffrage. Renown Russian journalist Yulia Latynina has come with an idea of ktitocracy: electoral qualification that consists in allowing to vote only to those who pay taxes.[6]

Notable dates for universal suffrage in the world

States have granted and revoked universal suffrage at various times.

Note: The table can be sorted alphabetically or chronologically using the icon.

Universal suffrage by country/territory
Year Country / Territory Notes
1792 - 1875 France In 1792, the Convention assembly is elected by all males 25 and over. Over the subsequent 82 years, France experienced profound political upheaval, with republican, monarchist and bonapartist government governing at various times, and the introduction, repeal and reintroduction of various degrees of universal, property and census-based suffrage. The turmoil in the extent of the franchise was ended by the Constitutional Law of 1875, which provided universal male suffrage, that was later supplemented by full universal suffrage in 1944.
1848 Switzerland At the formation of the federal state and with the Constitution of 1848, Switzerland becomes the first modern state to introduce universal male suffrage right that has been unbroken and continuous since its adoption. However, universal women's suffrage came into force only by 27 November 1990.
1850s Self-governing colonies of Australia In 1855, the parliament of the self-governing Colony of South Australia enacted legislation making provision for universal male suffrage. The parliaments of the Colony of Victoria and the Colony of New South Wales followed suit by enacting legislation providing universal male suffrage in 1857 and 1858 respectively.
1864 Greece After the deposition of King Otto of Greece in 1862, a new constitution was introduced introducing universal male suffrage.
1868 United States By the 1830s most states had lifted property restrictions for suffrage. This gave all white male citizens the right to vote. In 1868 the 14th Amendment set the groundwork for universal male suffrage by giving all men 21 and above the right to vote by penalizing states who restricted male adult suffrage. Two years later in 1870 the 15th Amendment granted suffrage to adult males of any race and skin color, including former slaves, and in 1920 the 19th Amendment extended the franchise to women.[7] However, many Southern States pro-actively disenfranchised black voters through poll taxation, literacy tests and bureaucratic loopholes. Near full enfranchisement was realized in 1965 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the ratification of the 24th Amendment in 1964.[8][9]
1893 New Zealand With the extension of voting rights to women in 1893, the self-governing British colony became first permanently-constituted jurisdiction in the world to grant universal adult suffrage.,[1] suffrage previously having been universal for Māori men over 21 from 1867, and for European males from 1879.[10]
1894 Colony of South Australia In 1894 the parliament of the Colony of South Australia enacted legislation providing a full and universal adult franchise; the right of all adults of the age of majority to vote in elections, and for any elector to stand for high office.
1902 Commonwealth of Australia In 1901, the self-governing colonies of Australia joined together in a federal structure of states. In 1902, the new federal parliament legislated for a universal adult franchise and the right of electors to stand for and occupy any office for which they could directly vote. Indigenous people were however explicitly excluded, and true universal suffrage was only introduced in 1962.
1906 Grand Principality of Finland As an autonomous Grand Principality in the Russian Empire, Finland achieved women's suffrage in 1906, becoming the second country in the world to adopt universal suffrage.[11] The Finnish parliamentary election of 1907 was the first time when women were elected (19 of 200 MPs). Finland became independent with the same universal suffrage in 1917.
1906 Iran Under "Constitutional Revolution"
1912 Argentina Universal, secret and mandatory suffrage for male citizens over 18 years of age was granted by Sáenz Peña Law.
1913 Norway Full male suffrage in 1898, with women included in 1913.
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 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, which then has been one of the most progressive election laws.[12]
1918 Austria After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I universal suffrage including women.
1918 First Czechoslovak Republic After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I universal suffrage including women.
1918 Kingdom of Hungary After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I
1918 Second Polish Republic Universal suffrage for men and women over 21.
1918 Russian Republic With the 1918 Soviet Constitution; direct voting and the lifting of some political restrictions not until the 1936 Soviet Constitution.
1918 Uruguay With the 1918 Uruguayan Constitution.
1919 Azerbaijan Democratic Republic Became part of the Soviet Union in 1920
1919 Democratic Republic of Armenia Became part of the Soviet Union in 1920
1919 Democratic Republic of Georgia Became part of the Soviet Union in 1921
1919 Latvia Universal suffrage introduced in Law of elections to the Constituent assembly
1919 Luxembourg
1919 Netherlands From 1917 full suffrage for men aged 23 and above. From 1919 universal suffrage for men and women aged 23. From 1971 suffrage for men and women aged 18 and older.
1919 Sweden Full[Incorrect - discuss] male suffrage 1909 for those aged 25 and above, but only to one of two equally weighed chambers. Universal suffrage for men and women later enacted.[13]
1922 Lithuania
1922 Republic of Ireland Then known as the Irish Free State, the country changed previous British law to enfranchise women equally with men in 1921.
1925 Newfoundland Joined Canada in 1949.
1928 United Kingdom Universal suffrage for all men in 1918 (in national elections). Women granted vote for first time in the same year but about 25% of women (those under 30) were excluded on grounds of age until 1928, granting women the vote on the same terms as men.[14] The Representation of the People Act 1948 removed multiple voting (i.e. established one person, one vote) and extended suffrage to local elections (apart from Northern Ireland where the situation was brought in line in 1968.)
1931 Ceylon (now as Sri Lanka) Universal suffrage for all irrespective of race, ethnicity, language, or gender.
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 from 1869 to 1923 and in the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1936). On 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 Thailand Universal suffrage for all since the first general election in 1933.
1934 Turkey
1935 Burma Last free elections held in 1990.[15]
1937 Philippines Males who were over 25 years old and can speak English or Spanish, with property and tax restrictions, were previously allowed to vote as early as 1907; universal male suffrage became a constitutional right in 1935. Women's suffrage was approved in an all-male plebiscite in 1937.[16]
1943 Lebanon Universal suffrage for all adult males and females since the independence of Lebanon (The Chamber of Deputies is shared equally between Christians and Muslims, rather than elected by universal suffrage that would have provided a Muslim majority).
1944 France Universal adult suffrage introduced
1944 Jamaica Universal adult suffrage introduced
1945 Bulgaria Universal suffrage including women and men serving in the Army was instituted by the government of the Fatherland front.
1945 Japan Universal adult suffrage introduced
1945 Italy Universal adult suffrage introduced
1947 Republic of China (now Taiwan) Universal suffrage under the Constitution of the Republic of China
1947 Argentina The General Election Law of 1912 was amended to include female citizens
1947/1953 Mexico Universal suffrage given to men after the Mexican Revolution; suffrage given to women in municipal elections in 1947 and national elections in 1953.[17] In 1996, Mexicans living in the United States were also given voting rights.[18]
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 Universal suffrage since the founding of the Republic of Korea
1948 Belgium Universal suffrage for Women for Parliament elections
1949 Chile From 1925 full suffrage for men aged 21 and above and able to read and write. From 1949 universal suffrage for men and women aged 21 and above and able to read and write. From 1970 suffrage for men and women aged 18 and older.
1950 India All adult citizens as recognized by the Constitution of India, irrespective of race or gender on the founding of the Republic of India
1951 Ghana Universal suffrage granted for the 1951 legislative election.
1952 Bolivia Universal suffrage granted by decree; first elections in 1956; women's suffrage coincided with abolition of literacy requirements.
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
1960 Canada In 1920, Canada (excluding Quebec until 1940) enacted suffrage for both sexes. First Nations (of either sex) were not allowed to vote until 1960.
1962 Australia The Commonwealth Electoral Act extends the right to vote to all Australians regardless of race.
1964 Afghanistan Constitution transformed Afghanistan into a modern democracy.[19]
1971 Switzerland Introduction of women's suffrage at the federal level (but not yet at all cantonal elections).
1974 Portugal
1979 European Community (now European Union)
1979 Peru Suffrage was granted for women in 1955 but suffrage for the illiterate was only granted with the 1979 Constitution
1980 Zimbabwe Universal suffrage was 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. Before 1978, Rhodesia (the name for the region that would become Zimbabwe in 1980) had a merit qualification in order to vote. This was controversial because it excluded the vast majority of native Africans.
1984 Liechtenstein
1990 Samoa
1990 Switzerland Suffrage extended to women in all cantonal elections, after the last Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden introduced women's suffrage in 1990. (Universal adult's suffrage had already been introduced in 1971.)
1994 South Africa Universal suffrage not regarding race or colour of skin; Blacks and Coloureds were denied the right to vote before and during the apartheid era (1948–1994). White women's suffrage granted in 1930 and suffrage for all white adults regardless of property in 1931.
1996 Taiwan See above 1947 Republic of China.
2002 Bahrain Universal male suffrage in 1973, although parliament was suspended and dissolved in 1975 for approximately 30 years.
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. Note: As of 2005, women who satisfy the age and citizenship requirements are allowed to vote.
2008 Bhutan
2013 Qatar Municipal elections since 1999.
2017 (planned)[20] Hong Kong

Women's suffrage

Main article: Women's suffrage

The first women's suffrage was granted in Corsica in 1755 and lasted until 1769.[21]

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 later half of the nineteenth century, starting with South Australia in 1861.

The first unrestricted women's suffrage in a major country was granted in New Zealand in 1893.[1] 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.[21]

South Australia first granted women suffrage and allowed them to stand for parliament in 1894.

In Portugal, in 1911, Carolina Beatriz Ângelo was the first woman to be granted the right to vote. She voted in the First Portuguese Republic elections of 1911.[22]

In 1930, Turkey granted women's suffrage for city council elections, many years earlier than France, Italy and Switzerland. In 1934 all women in Turkey could vote and could be elected.[23]

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 suffrage, children's suffrage and suffrage in school

Main article: Youth suffrage

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.[24][25]

See also

Politics portal


External links

  • Limited suffrage in England prior to the 1832 reforms
  • Finnish centennial celebration
  • "Have you heard the news?", a pamphlet published by an anonymous English freeman in 1835
  • An address to the middle and working classes engaged in trade and manufactures throughout the empire on the necessity of union at the present crisis (1842) by Richard Gardner

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