|Part of the Politics series|
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.
Historically universal suffrage initially referred to adult male suffrage. The First French Republic was the first nation that adopted universal male suffrage in 1792; it was the first national system that abolished all property requirements as a prerequisite for allowing men to register and vote. Greece recognized full male suffrage in 1829 (for males over the age of 25, lowered to 21 in 1862, although it excluded the unemployed until 1877) and France and Switzerland have continuously done so since the 1848 Revolution (for resident male citizens). The German Empire implemented full male suffrage in 1871. The United States theoretically adopted full male suffrage with the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1870, but this was not practically implemented in the South until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 1893 New Zealand became the first nation in the world to grant universal, male and female adult suffrage. In most countries, full universal suffrage followed about a generation after full male suffrage. Notable exceptions in Europe were France, where women could not vote until 1945, Italy (where universal suffrage, including women, was approved in 1945 and used, for the first time, in 1946), Belgium (1948), Greece (1952), and Switzerland (1971 in federal elections and 1990 in all cantonal elections). It is worth noting that several of these countries that took a long time to adopt women's suffrage were actually pioneers in granting universal male suffrage.
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 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 requires the right to vote to be granted to all its residents. All countries, however, do not allow certain categories of citizens to vote. All countries have a minimum age, usually coinciding with the age of majority, and several countries impose felony disenfranchisement and disfranchisement based on resident status and citizenship. A few countries, including Saudi Arabia, do not allow women to vote, usually entitled "universal male suffrage".
The first movements in the Western world toward universal suffrage occurred in the early 19th century, and focused on removing property requirements for voting. In the United States following the American Civil War, slaves were freed and granted rights of citizens, including suffrage for adult males (although states established restrictions later in the century). 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 European nations that had enacted universal suffrage had their normal legal process, or their status as an independent nation, interrupted during and after the First World War.
Many societies in the past have denied people the right to vote on the basis of race or ethnicity, related to discriminatory ideas about citizenship. For example, in apartheid-era South Africa, non-white people could not vote in national elections until the first multi-party elections in 1994.
Although in the United States African Americans were granted the rights of citizens, including suffrage, by constitutional amendments following the American Civil War, later in the century white Democrats had regained control in all states of the former Confederacy in the American South. From 1890 to 1910 they passed new constitutions, laws or constitutional amendments establishing barriers to voter registration and, later, voting, that essentially disfranchised most African Americans. They mounted legal challenges, but did not fully regain the ability to exercise their rights until after passage in the mid-1960s of the Voting Rights Act, which provided federal protection and enforcement. This was a result of their activism in the Civil Rights Movement.
All US states, with the exceptions of Maine and Vermont, disfranchise some felons from voting depending on their current incarceration, parole or probation status; a number of US states permanently disfranchise some felons, even after their release from prison. Many states within the U.S. previously disfranchised paupers, persons who either paid no direct taxes, or received public assistance.
Nations have differing degrees of legal recognition of non-resident citizens: non-resident Danes cannot vote after two years; non-resident Italians may vote for representatives at-large in the Italian parliament; British citizens cannot vote for their national parliament unless they have lived in the UK within the last fifteen years. A few nations also restrict those who are part of the military or police forces, e.g. Kuwait.
Many democratic countries, for example the United Kingdom and France, have had colonies with citizens living outside of the mother country and have generally not been entitled to vote for the national legislature. A peculiarly complex case is that of Algeria under the Third French Republic: Algeria was legally an integral part of France, but citizenship was restricted (as in other French colonies proper) by legal status, not by race or ethnicity. Any Muslim Algerian could become a French citizen by choosing to live like one. As this required the person to resign jurisdiction under Islamic law in favour of French civic law, very few did. Among Muslims, such a change was considered apostasy from Islam, which was the dominant religion in Algeria. Colonists in America declared Independence from Great Britain citing "no taxation without representation" as one of their main grievances. However, the newly minted country did not grant its overseas the right to vote in elections either. This did not happen until the passage of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act in 1986.
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 the West Bank, Palestinians are not Israeli citizens and therefore cannot vote in Israeli elections. Different areas of the West Bank are under varying levels of Israeli control. settlers (and their offspring) to Area C retain their citizenship, and can continue to vote.
Criticism of universal suffrage
In recent years, some journalists have criticised universal suffrage. Renowned Russian journalist Yulia Latynina has suggested a ktitocracy be created: this electoral qualification would extend suffrage only to those persons who pay more in taxes than they consume in social welfare. She also proposed that the state buy out and destroy individual votes for a particular sum ($30 was proposed for Russia). This is intended to ensure that those who do not place high value on their votes do not influence the result, but at the same time they are not explicitly deprived of the right to vote.
Notable dates for universal suffrage in the world
States have granted and revoked universal suffrage at various times. This list can be organised in three ways:
Universal There are no distinctions between voters of the same age in any part of its territories due to gender, literacy, wealth, social status, language, religion, race, or ethnicity.
Male is for all males over a certain age irrespective of literacy, wealth, or social status.
Female is for all genders over a certain age irrespective of literacy, wealth, or social status.
Ethnicity is for all eligible voters over a certain age irrespective of language, religion, race, or ethnicity.
Note: The table can be sorted alphabetically or chronologically using the icon.
|Universal||Male||Female||Ethnicity||Country / Territory||Notes|
|1944||1875||1944||?||France||In 1792, the Convention assembly was 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. Through these changes, suffrage increased and decreased based on 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. This was supplemented in 1944 by full universal suffrage, including women as voters.|
|1918||1918||1918||1918||Poland||Universal suffrage for men and women over 21. Prior to the Partition of Poland in 1795, only nobility (men) were allowed to take part in political life. The first parliamentary elections were held on 26 January 1919 (Polish legislative election, 1919), according to the decree introducing universal suffrage, signed by Jozef Pilsudski on 28 November 1918, immediately after restoring independent Polish state.|
|?||1848||1971 or 1990||?||Switzerland||At the formation of the federal state and with the Constitution of 1848, Switzerland became the first modern state to introduce universal male suffrage; this has continued unbroken since its adoption. Women's suffrage was introduced, by (male) referendum, for federal elections in 1971, but for cantonal elections, the last canton to introduce women's suffrage (Appenzell Innerrhoden) had to do so by supreme court order in 1990.|
|?||1849||1915||1915||Denmark||The king granted limited voting rights in 1834 but only to property owners and with limited power. First proper voting rights came in 1849 to "men over 30 of good reputation" but in the subsequent years the rules were changed a number of times, and it was not until the change of the constitution in 1915 that all men and women living within the kingdom had influence on all chambers. Danish law does not operate with any notion of "ethnicity," however, universal suffrage cannot have been said to be obtained because non-residents are still excluded from voting after two years abroad.|
|1962||1850s||1894||1962||Self-governing colonies of Australia
Colony of South Australia
Commonwealth of Australia
|In 1855, the parliament of the self-governing Colony of South Australia enacted legislation providing 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. 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. 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 explicitly excluded. True universal suffrage was not achieved until 1962 when the Commonwealth Electoral Act extends the right to vote to all Australians regardless of race.|
|?||?||Colombia||Universal male suffrage starting in 1853, restricted in 1886.
Electorate defined on the basis of adult franchise and joint electorate.
|1952||1829||1930 or 1952||?||Greece||After the deposition of King Otto of Greece in 1862, a new constitution was introduced introducing universal male suffrage. Universal male suffrage in 1864, with secret ballot; women given the vote in local elections since 1930 and in parliamentary elections since 1952.|
|1933||1869||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.|
|1871||1871||1919||1919||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 (until 1918) (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.|
|?||1870||1920||1870||United States||The United States drafted a new Constitution, which was ratified a year later in 1789. This created a government elected by the "people of the several states." From the 1820s to 1856 most states lifted property restrictions for suffrage. Some states also allowed free blacks to vote at certain periods. Following the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery, freed African Americans were granted citizenship. In 1868 the 14th Amendment set the groundwork for universal male suffrage. It gave all men 21 and above the right to vote by penalizing states that 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 (freedmen). In 1920 the 19th Amendment extended the franchise to women. in 1924 the Indian Citizenship Act gave native Americans the right to vote. But, at the turn of the 20th century, former Confederate states passed laws and amendments to effectively disfranchise black voters through poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and other restrictions, applied in a discriminatory manner. These were later ruled unconstitutional. In 1964, the 24th Amendment, which abolished the use of poll taxes, was passed. Full enfranchisement was enforced starting in 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to provide for federal enforcement of rights.|
|1988||1891||1932||1988||Brazil||Replaced the previous system of male suffrage, from 1891, which excluded homeless, women, priests, the military. Illiterates were still banned until 1988.|
|?||1893||1948||?||Belgium||Universal census suffrage for all men aged 25 and above since 1893. Depending on education and amount of taxes paid, males could cast between 1 and 3 votes. Widows were also allowed to vote but lost their voting rights after remarrying. Universal single suffrage for males since 1918. Universal suffrage for women was finally introduced in 1948.|
|?||?||1893||?||New Zealand||With the extension of voting rights to women in 1893, the self-governing British colony became the first permanently-constituted jurisdiction in the world to grant universal adult suffrage, suffrage previously having been universal for Māori men over 21 from 1867, and for European males from 1879.|
|?||1898||1913||?||Norway||Full male suffrage in 1898, with women included in 1913.|
|?||1906||?||?||Iran||Under "Constitutional Revolution"|
|?||?||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. The Finnish parliamentary election of 1907 was the first time when women were elected (19 of 200 MPs). After becoming independent in 1917, Finland continued its universal suffrage.|
|?||1909||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.|
|1945||1912||1945||1912||Italy||1912 Introduction of the first universal male suffrage, extended to all citizens aged 30 and older, with no restrictions. It was applied in the elections of 1913. In 1918 the electorate was expanded with all male citizens aged 21 and older or who had provided the service in the army. Universal adult suffrage, including women, introduced in 1945. It was applied, for the first time, in the referendum of 1946. The voters had to choose between Italian monarchy or republic. The voters chose republic. Suffrage for men and women aged 18 granted in 1975.|
|?||1912||1947||?||Argentina||Universal, secret and mandatory suffrage for male citizens over 18 years of age was granted by Sáenz Peña Law. The General Election Law of 1912 was amended to include female citizens in 1947.|
|?||1917||?||?||Estonia||Two tiered elections were held, with 62 representatives from rural communities and towns elected in May–June and July–August, respectively.|
|1919||1917||1919||1917||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.|
|?||1918||?||?||Russian Republic||With the 1918 Soviet Constitution; direct voting and the lifting of some political restrictions not until the 1936 Soviet Constitution.|
|1928||1918||1918 or 1928||1791 or 1829||United Kingdom||In the United Kingdom the removal of voting rights based on Religion occurred in 1791 and 1829. 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. 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.)|
|?||1918||?||?||Uruguay||With the 1918 Uruguayan Constitution.|
|?||1896/1907||1918||?||Austria||Universal suffrage 1896, universal and equal suffrage (removing multiple voting) 1907. Before 1907 unmarried landholding women were allowed to vote. After the Central Powers' defeat in World War I universal suffrage including women.|
|?||1896/1907||1918||?||First Czechoslovak Republic||Within Austria universal suffrage 1896, universal and equal suffrage (removing multiple voting) 1907.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|
|?||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|
|1960||?||1920 or 1940||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.|
|?||1918||1921||?||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.|
|1946||1925||1946||?||Japan||Universal adult male suffrage for those over 25 was introduced in 1925. Universal adult suffrage for both sexes over 20 introduced in 1946.|
|1994||?||1931||1994||South Africa||White women's suffrage granted in 1930 and suffrage for all white adults regardless of property in 1931. 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).|
|1931||?||?||1931||Ceylon (now as Sri Lanka)||Universal suffrage for all irrespective of race, ethnicity, language, or gender.|
|1933||1933||1933||1933||Thailand||Universal suffrage for all since the first general election in 1933.|
|?||1935||?||?||Burma||Last free elections held in 1990.|
|?||1935||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.|
|1943||1943||1943||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||?||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.|
|?||1947||1947||?||Republic of China (now Taiwan)||Universal suffrage under the Constitution of the Republic of China|
|?||1947||1947||?||Malta||The 1947 election was the first election without property qualifications for voters, and women were also allowed to vote for the first time|
|?||?||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. In 1996, Mexicans living in the United States were also given voting rights.|
|1948||1948||1948||1948||United Nations||Provision of "universal and equal suffrage" in Universal Declaration of Human Rights [Article 21(3)]|
|?||1948||1948||?||Israel||Universal suffrage since the founding of the State of Israel.|
|?||1948||1948||?||South Korea||Universal suffrage since the founding of the Republic of Korea.|
|?||1970||1970||?||Chile||From 1888 suffrage for men of any race over 21 who can read. From 1925 full suffrage for men aged 21 and above and able to read and write. 1934 women get to vote on Municipal Elections. 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 whether or not they can read.|
|1950||1950||1950||?||India||All adult citizens as recognized by the Constitution of India, irrespective of race or gender or religion on the founding of the Republic of India.|
|?||1951||1951||?||Ghana||Universal suffrage granted for the 1951 legislative election.|
|?||1956||1956||?||Bolivia||Universal suffrage granted by decree; first elections in 1956; women's suffrage coincided with abolition of literacy requirements.|
|?||1962||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.|
|?||1964||?||?||Afghanistan||Constitution transformed Afghanistan into a modern democracy.|
|?||1973||2002||?||Bahrain||Universal male suffrage in 1973, although parliament was suspended and dissolved in 1975 for approximately 30 years.|
|1974||1878||1931||1974||Portugal||By 1878, 72% of the male adult population had access to vote; this number was restricted by the policies of the last years of the monarchy and first years of the republic (transition in 1910 with the 5 October 1910 revolution), being reinstalled only in the 1920s. Restricted female suffrage was firstly allowed in 1931; it was further extended in 1933, 1946, and finally 1968. Due to the 1933-1974 dictatorship of Estado Novo, universal suffrage was only fully attained after the 1974 Carnation revolution.|
|?||1979||?||?||European Community (now European Union)|
|?||1979||1955 or 1979||?||Peru||Suffrage was granted for women in 1955 but suffrage for the illiterate was only granted with the 1979 Constitution|
|1987||?||1978||1987||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.|
|?||1996||?||?||Taiwan||See above 1947 Republic of China.|
|?||2013||?||?||Qatar||Municipal elections since 1999.|
|?||2017 (planned)||?||?||Hong Kong|
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. 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.
South Australia first granted women suffrage and allowed them to stand for parliament in 1894.
The autonomous Grand Principality of Finland, a decade before becoming the republic of Finland, was the first European country to introduce female suffrage in 1906. It was also the second country to allow female candidates and the first to actually elect female MP's in 1907.
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.
- Demeny voting
- Voting age
- Equality before the law
- List of suffragists and suffragettes
- List of women's rights activists
- Timeline of women's suffrage
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