Universal suffrage


August 19, 2022

Universal suffrage consists in giving the right to vote to the entire adult population of a state, regardless of their ethnicity, sex, beliefs or social class. The achievement of universal suffrage has come from an evolution in democracy. After the French Revolution, political power began to be in the hands of chambers of representatives, so it was necessary to regulate the election system. Thus, it began with census suffrage, in which only men with certain requirements of education, income and social class could vote; it was later changed to male suffrage (second half of the 19th century), in which all men who could read and write could vote. Until reaching women's suffrage (beginnings of the 20th century), the inclusion of the illiterate and people of all ethnicities (second half of the 20th century).

Limitations on universal suffrage

Despite the fact that it is considered an achievement of democracy and an essential condition in any modern political system, throughout the history of the 19th and 20th centuries, and even today, universal suffrage has not been possible due to various political realities , pressure groups or political regimes. Many so-called "universal" systems constitutionally and legally exclude potential voters. Thus, incarcerated citizens and the mentally ill are excluded from the voting population, so they actually follow the census suffrage system. In the past, numerous societies have denied the right to vote also based on differences in ethnicity or identity. For example, during the South African apartheid era, non-white ethnic groups were not allowed to vote. The same was true in the pre-civil rights era in the United States where, although African-Americans technically had the right to vote, they were denied the exercise through intimidation or other means. The Ku Klux Klan, formed after the American Civil War, was one of the organizations that stood out in this repression. There have been times when military personnel have been denied the right to vote. This deprivation of the right to vote imposed in certain states (for example, in France during the Third Republic) has complex reasons. On the one hand, it is about preventing the pressure of the officers on the soldiers, which would distort the vote (such events were not uncommon during the Consulate or the Second Empire in France and even in certain South American republics today). It was, on the other hand, to avoid the intrusion of politics into the army, as harmful to military discipline.

In Spain

In the Spanish state, since the Constitution of Cádiz of 1812, suffrage was census-based, limited to property owners and people with certain "abilities". During the short period of the Democratic Sexenni and the First Republic (1868-1874) it was the first time that direct universal suffrage was implemented for men over the age of 25. Universal suffrage for men under 25 was not approved until 1890, with the liberal government of Sagasta. In 1931, the Second Republic also gave women the right to vote, which was applied for the first time in the general elections of 1933.

Chronology of Universal Suffrage by States

Below is a chronological list of countries and the date on which they managed to implement universal suffrage for the first time:


South Africa - 1994 (1994 South African election)


Argentina - 1947 (women's right to vote is recognized). Chile - 1949 men and women over 21 (in 1934 women had the vote for municipal elections). 1970, over 18 and illiterate Canada - 1960 Colombia - 1956 United States - 1965 Uruguay - 1932

Asia and Oceania

Australia - 1962 India -- 1950 (as part of its constitution). Iraq - 2005 Israel-Palestine - 1948 Japan - 1945 Malaysia - 1955 New Zealand - 1893 Sri Lanka - 1931 Turkey - 1931