Right/Voting Rights and Suffrage/History

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Voting Rights and Suffrage

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What is the oldest source in any country that mentions this right? 🖉 edit

Multiple 5th-Century BC sources outline the importance of citizen voting to early Athenian democracy. Thucydides’s The History of the Peloponnesian War includes several allusions to the importance of citizen participation in democracy. The first instance comes in Chthe funeral oration of Pericles:

"Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favors the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy…instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all." (Thucydides)

The description of participatory democracy as “indispensable” evokes an importance that moves beyond simply advocating for the benefits of democracy. Rather, it implies an intrinsic importance that more closely mirrors that of a political right. The early political foundations of democracy appear again during a speech from Athenagoras:

"It will be said, perhaps, that democracy is neither wise nor equitable, but that the holders of property are also the best fitted to rule. I say, on the contrary, first, that the word demos, or people, includes the whole state, oligarchy only a part; next, that if the best guardians of property are the rich, and the best counsellors the wise, none can hear and decide so well as the many; and that all these talents, severally and collectively, have their just place in a democracy." (Thucydides)

Aristotle also outlines the inner workings of early Athenian democracy after the reforms of Solon and includes several allusions to the intrinsic importance of suffrage in The Constitution of the Athenians, most likely written between 328 and 322 BC. In his discussion of the importance of individuals’ right to appeal grievances in Athenian court, Aristotle states that “when the democracy is master of the voting-power, it is master of the constitution,” and that “the masses have owed their strength” to Athens’s democratic institutions (Avalon Project). While there is no explicit mention of suffrage as a “right” per se, Aristotle’s emphasis on “voting-power” as a fundamental element of Athenian civil society serves as one of the older examples of voting as a “right.” However, it is important to note that voting in Ancient Athens, while highly valued and perceived as a right for some, was not universal, and only free adult men, whose parents were also Athenian, were granted the right to vote.


Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians, Avalon Project

Thucydides, Peloponnesian War

What historical forces or events, if any, contributed to a widespread belief in its importance? 🖉 edit

The original formation of the right to vote within the Constitution was motivated by a worry as to who would maintain control within the political sphere. The framers of the Constitution realized that the right to vote is a fundamental component of democracy and liberty. To this extent, they did not want to fully restrict voting rights of minority groups, however, they also worried that non-property owners could construct a majority over property owners if they were to allow voting rights to be expanded to all. Because of this dilemma, the framers originally gave states the power to enact their own voter restrictions (The Library of Congress).

After years of discrimination with regard to suffrage, the Selma to Mongomery March took place. Many Americans were angry with the little weight the 15th Amendment actually held in the South. On March 7th, 1965, more than 600 Americans marched through Selma Alabama, led by John Lewis, a political activist. They marched to peacefully protest the ongoing racial discrimination. The protesters faced violence from state troopers, and many were unrightfully arrested. The sight of unwarranted and brutal violence ultimately motivated many to fight for racial equality and more equitable voting rights. Martin Luther King, Jr. was among those who were arrested. He had helped to rally the state for change when he came to the city to speak in January and expressed his support for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who worked to register black voters (A&E Television Networks, 2009). Evidently, the call for racial equality played a large role in the recognition of the importance of voting rights.

Equally important were the forces that expanded voting rights for women. Beginning in 1840, when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from a conference in London because they were female, they began to fight for women's rights. In 1948, they established the United State’s first women’s rights convention in order to express their grievances, specifically with women’s lack of voting rights. This led to the formation of the National Suffrage Association by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton where they argued for a universal suffrage amendment which would include women. Following was the creation of the American Woman Suffrage Association, which operated on a more moderate platform and even succeeded to win suffrage for women in some states, as they operated on a state by state basis. This led to the establishment of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, an integration of the two previous associations. After many protests and amendment proposals from 1878 until 1919, women were finally granted the right to vote by the 19th Amendment (The Library of Congress).


History.com Editors. “Voting Rights Act of 1965.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/voting-rights-act.

The Founders and the Vote : The Right to Vote : Elections : Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress : Library of Congress. The Library of Congress. (n.d.). https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/elections/right-to-vote/the-founders-and-the-vote/.

What is the oldest written source in this country that mentions this right?


Afghanistan 🖉 edit

The earliest Afghan constitution was written during the reign of Emir Abdur Rahman Khan in the 1890s followed by the 1923 version. The 1964 Constitution of Afghanistan turned Afghanistan into a modern democracy, and the right to vote was established in Article 46. The 1964 Constitution of Afghanistan granted women equal rights including universal suffrage and the right to run for office (University of Nebraska, "Constitution of Afghanistan").

Albania 🖉 edit

Article 45 of the Republic of Albania’s 1998 Constitution guarantees the right to vote to the People of Albania so they can exercise their power through their elected representatives in the Parliament (Berhani, I. "Elections and Implementation of the Law of Elections in Albania").

Algeria 🖉 edit

Algeria gained independence from France in 1962 and a new Constitution was passed the following year. In the 1989 Constitution under Article 62, all people meeting the legal requirements have the right to vote and to be elected (Constitute Project, "Algeria 1989" ).

Andorra 🖉 edit

Article 24 of the 1993 Constitution states that all citizens of age and in full use of their rights are guaranteed suffrage (Constitute Project, "Andorra 1993" ).

Angola 🖉 edit

The constitution of 1975 established a one-party state headed by a president who was also chairman of the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), which declared itself a Marxist-Leninist party in 1977. Under Article 54 of the Angolan Constitution every citizen of age has the right to vote (Britannica, "Angola").

Antigua and Barbuda 🖉 edit

Universal suffrage was introduced in Antigua and Barbuda in 1951 (National Encyclopedia, "Antigua and Barbuda- Politics, government, and taxation").

Argentina 🖉 edit

In 1983, Argentina returned to democracy after almost eight years of authoritarian rule. In April 1994 elections were held to form a Constituent Assembly because of the provisions made to the 1853 Constitution. Under the new Constitution the president is directly elected for a four-year term by universal adult suffrage (ACE Project, “Electoral Systems- Argentina").

Armenia 🖉 edit

Article 48 of the 1995 Constitution grants the people the right to vote and the right to participate in a referendum (Constitute Project, "Armenia’s Constitution of 1995 with Amendments through 2015" ).

Australia 🖉 edit

In the 1850s under the Constitutions of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, Aboriginal men had the same right to vote as other male British subjects aged over 21. The first federal electoral Act, the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, granted men and women of all states the right to vote (National Museum Australia, “Australians’ right to vote”).

Austria 🖉 edit

In Austria, universal suffrage for men was introduced by the Voting Rights Act of 1907 and the country was one of the first in Europe to introduce women’s suffrage in 1918 (Metropole, “Your Right to Vote in Austria”).

Azerbaijan 🖉 edit

Section 3 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan established the major rights and freedoms of citizens of Azerbaijan, including human rights, property rights, equality rights, the right to vote and freedom of speech. According to the Law passed in the parliament, in 1919, Azerbaijan all citizens of the Republic who had reached the age of 20 were granted voting rights (Azerbaijan, “Interesting Facts”).

Bahrain 🖉 edit

Under Chapter I, Article 1 of the 2002 Constitution all citizens are able to participate in public affairs and political rights such as voting (Constitute Project, "Bahrain's Constitution of 2002" ).

Bangladesh 🖉 edit

The Constitution of 1972, under section VII, states the Qualifications for registration as voter and grants the right to people who are eligible to vote (Laws of Bangladesh, “The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh”).

Barbados 🖉 edit

Barbados Independence Order of 1966 and the Constitution of Barbados established the right to vote for all citizens (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Barbados”).

Belarus 🖉 edit

Article 38 of the 1994 Constitution of the Republic of Belarus states that citizens have the right to vote freely and officials must be elected through a secret ballot (Constitute Project, Belarus's Constitution of 1994 with Amendments through 2004) .

Belgium 🖉 edit

Beglain citizens are automatically registered on the electoral rolls when reaching the age of 18 and are subject to compulsory voting under Article 62 of the Belgian Constitution (Legislationline, “The Belgian Constitution”).

Belize 🖉 edit

The 31 members of the House of Representatives are directly elected to five-year terms and the Senate has 12 seats. The ruling party, the opposition, and several civil associations select the senators, who are then appointed by the governor general. (Freedom House, “Belize”).

Benin 🖉 edit

The president is elected by popular vote for up to two five-year terms and Delegates to the 83-member, unicameral National Assembly serve four-year terms and are elected by proportional representation. The April 2019 legislative elections were not free or fair, as the implementation of new electoral rules effectively prevented all opposition parties from participating (Freedom House, “Benin”).

Bhutan 🖉 edit

The Constitution provides for a bicameral Parliament, with a 25-seat upper house, the National Council, and a 47-seat lower house, the National Assembly. Members of both houses serve five-year terms. The king appoints five members of the nonpartisan National Council, and the remaining 20 are popularly elected as independents, while the National Assembly is entirely elected (Freedom House, “Bhutan”).

Bolivia 🖉 edit

Section 2 Article 26 of the Constitution grants the right for universal suffrage for all people (Constitute Project, “Bolivia’'s Constitution of 2009” ).

Bosnia and Herzegovina 🖉 edit

In accordance with Article II 1, Article IV 1.2 and 4.a and the Article V 1.a of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Article V of the Annex 3 of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Election Law Of Bosnia And Herzegovina was developed in 2001 to promote free and fair elections (Legislationline, “Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina”).

Botswana 🖉 edit

Botswana has a unicameral, 65-seat National Assembly. Voters directly elect 57 members to five-year terms, while 6 members are nominated by the president and approved by the National Assembly (Freedom House, “Botswana”).

Brazil 🖉 edit

Chapter IV, Political Rights, Article 14 of the Brazilian Constitution grants universal suffrage with compulsory voting to those over the age of 18 (Constitute Project, “Brazil's Constitution of 1988 with Amendments through 2017” ).

Brunei 🖉 edit

The unicameral Legislative Council has no political standing independent of the sultan, who appoints most members. Brunei has not held direct legislative elections since 1962 (Freedom House, "Brunei").

Bulgaria 🖉 edit

Under the 1991 Constitution Article 42, every citizen above the age of 18 is free to participate in elections of state and local authorities and in referendums (Constitute Project, "Bulgaria's Constitution of 1991 with Amendments through 2015" ).

Burkina Faso 🖉 edit

Under Article 33 of Title II in the Constitution of Burkina Faso, suffrage is direct or indirect and is universal, equal and secret (Constitute Project, “Burkina Faso's Constitution of 1991 with Amendments through 2015” ).

Burundi 🖉 edit

Under Article 8 of Title I, of The State and of The Sovereignty of The People, all Brudians are granted universal suffrage if they are 18 years of age (Constitute Project, “Burundi's Constitution of 2005” ).

Cambodia 🖉 edit

Khmer citizens 18 years or older are granted the right to vote through universal suffrage under Article 34 of the Constitution (Constitute Project, “Cambodia's Constitution of 1993 with Amendments through 2008” ).

Cameroon 🖉 edit

Under Part I, The State and Sovereignty, Article 2 of the Cameroon Constitution, voting is equal, secret and by universal suffrage. It is granted to every citizen 20 years of age and older (Constitute Project, “Cameroon's Constitution of 1972 with Amendments through 2008” ).

Canada 🖉 edit

In 1876, only men who were 21 years of age or older, and who owned property were able to vote in federal elections. In 1918 Canadian women were given the right to vote in federal elections if they met the same eligibility criteria as men. The 1982 The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms the right of every Canadian citizen to vote and to stand as a candidate (Elections Canada, “A Brief History of Federal Voting Rights in Canada”).

Cape Verde 🖉 edit

Under Chapter II, Rights, Liberties and Guarantees in Political Participation, Article 54 of the Cape Verde Constitution all citizens at least 18 years of age have the right to vote and participate in political life directly and through freely elected representatives (Constitute Project, “Cape Verde's Constitution of 1980 with Amendments through 1992” ).

Central African Republic 🖉 edit

The Constitution of the Central African Republic states under Title II, Of the State and Of Sovereignty, Article 19 that universal suffrage may be direct or indirect as every citizen over 18 has a duty to vote (Constitute Project, “Central African Republic's Constitution of 2004 with Amendments through 2010” ).

Chad 🖉 edit

Universal suffrage is granted directly or indirectly and is equal and secret for those 18 years of age or older under Title I, Of the State and Of Sovereignty, Article 6 of the Constitution of Chad (Constitute Project, “Chad's Constitution of 1996 with Amendments through 2005” ).

Chile 🖉 edit

The Constitution of Chile, Chapter II, Nationality and Citizenship, Article 13 grants Chileans who have reached 18 years of age voting rights. (Constitute Project, “Chile's Constitution of 1980 with Amendments through 2015” ).

China 🖉 edit

Under Chapter II, The Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens, Article 34 all citizens 18 years of age have the right to vote and stand for election without discrimination. (Constitute Project, “China (People’s Republic of)'s Constitution of 1982 with Amendments through 2018” ).

Colombia 🖉 edit

Under Title III, Chapter II, all citizens 18 years of age have the right to vote in all elections. In addition, an Act may grant Alien’s who reside in Colombia the right to vote in municipal and district level elections. (Constitute Project, “Colombia’s Constitution of 1991 with revisions through 2015” ).

Comoros 🖉 edit

According to Title I, Article 4, suffrage can be indirect or direct and is universal, equal and secret. All Comorians of either sex who are in possession of their civi and political rights may vote as provided for by the statute. (Constitute Project, "Comoros's Constitution of 2001 with Amendments through 2009" ).

Costa Rica 🖉 edit

According to Title VIII, Chapter II, all birthright citizens 18 years or older and naturalized citizens, 12 months or greater after naturalization, have the right to suffrage facilities. (Constitute Project, “Costa Rica’s Constitution of 1949 with revisions through 2020) .

Croatia 🖉 edit

Under Title II, Article 45, all birthright citizens 18 years or older, have access to universal, and equal suffrage through secret and direct ballots to determine the Croatian Parliament, President of the Republic of Croatia, and the European Parliament. (Constitute Project, “Croatia’s Constitution of 1991 with revisions through 2013) .

Cuba 🖉 edit

Article 205 of Cuba’s Constitution states that voting is the right of all Cuban citizens over the age of 16 unless they have been judicially disqualified to vote. Article 104 states that the National Assembly of the People’s Power is made up of representatives elected via direct, free, and secret elections. Additionally, Article 126 states that the President is elected by similar principles. (Constitute Project, “Cuba’s Constitution of 2019) .

Cyprus 🖉 edit

Under Article 63, Part II, all birthright citizens at the age of 18 years or older are eligible to be electors in either the Greek or Turkish electoral list based on their own nationality. Within each list the elector may vote for their respective representative. (Constitute Project, “Cyprus’ Constitution of 1960 with revisions through 2013) .

Czech Republic 🖉 edit

According to Chapter I, Article 56, all citizens at the age of 18 years or older have a right to direct and universal voting. Under Chapter 2, this voting is done by secret ballot and is based on proportional representation. (Constitute Project, “Czech Republic’s Constitution of 1993 with revisions through 2013) .

Democratic Republic of the Congo 🖉 edit

Section II Sovereignty, Article 5 establishes the conditions of organization of the elections and of the referendum. Suffrage is universal, equal, secret and can be direct or indirect. Without prejudice to the provisions of article 70, 102 and 106 all Congolese of both sexes, of 18 years of age, and enjoying their civil and political rights are electors and eligible. (Constitute Project, “Congo (Democratic Republic of the)'s Constitution of 2005 with Amendments through 2011” ).

Denmark 🖉 edit

Under Part 4, all citizens who are permanent residents of Denmark and are at the age of suffrage, which is set by referendum, can vote in Folketing elections. (Constitute Project, “Denmark’s Constitution of 1953) .

Djibouti 🖉 edit

Under Title I, Article V, all Djiboutian nationals of majority have a right to Suffrage regardless of gender. (Constitute Project, “Djibouti’s Constitution of 1992 with revisions through 2010) .

Dominica 🖉 edit

Under Chapter III, Part 1, any resident who is a birthright citizen or naturalized citizen of Dominica and is over the age of 18 has a right to suffrage via a secret and unimposed ballot unless this right has been taken away by Parliament. (Constitute Project, “Dominica’s Constitution of 1978 with revisions through 2014) .

Dominican Republic 🖉 edit

Article 208 in the Dominican Republic’s constitution grants the right of universal, direct, free, and secret suffrage to all citizens over the age of 18, with the exceptions of Members of the Armed Forces and individuals whose rights have been revoked by courts. (Constitute Project, “Dominican Republic’s Constitution of 2015) .

East Timor 🖉 edit

Article 47 of the Constitution grants those over the age of 17 the right to vote. Voting constitutes a civic duty and is personal (Constitute Project, “Timor-Leste's Constitution of 2002” ).

Ecuador 🖉 edit

Under Article 62 of the Constitution of Ecuador voting is mandatory for those over the age of 18. Voting is optional for those between the ages of 16-18 and elderly persons 65 years of age and older (Constitute Project, “Ecuador's Constitution of 2008” ).

Egypt 🖉 edit

Part II, Rights and Freedoms, Article 55 of the Egyptian Constitution grants universal suffrage and compulsory voting for every Egyptian citizen over 18. If one fails to vote, they can receive a fine or even imprisonment, but a significant percentage of eligible voters do not vote (Constitute Project, “Egypt's Constitution of 2012” ). ... further results

Is the identification of this right associated with a particular era in history, political regime, or political leader? + create

Is there another noteworthy written source from the past that mentions this right? 🖉 edit

Other noteworthy written sources that mention an implicit right to vote in a more modern context include Thomas Rainsborough during the British Putney Debates in 1647, where he stated, “I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that Government that he hath not had a voice to put Himself under.” Rainsborough’s speech at the Putney Debates also alluded to a divine right to vote: "I do think the main cause why Almighty God gave men reason, it was that they should make use of that reason…every man born in England cannot, ought not, neither by the law of God nor the law of nature, to be exempted from the choice of those who are to make laws for him to live under." (Rainsborough) In the United States, the 1776 Constitution of Virginia was one of the first written sources to establish a protected right to vote, stating that “all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage.” Federalist 52, written by James Madison, also alludes to the importance of voting rights, stating “the definition of the right of suffrage is very justly regarded as a fundamental article of republican government” (Avalon Project). In both of these cases, however, the right to vote was granted solely to property-owning men, and it would not be until the mid-19th Century that the connection between the right to vote and property ownership would be removed in both Great Britain and the United States. Additionally, perceptions of suffrage as a universal right have come about much more recently, with New Zealand becoming the first country to legally recognize suffrage as a universal right in 1893 under Part One of the Electoral Act, which outlined that “every person of the age of twenty-one years or upwards who has resided for one year in the colony” was eligible to vote.


Calvin, John, and Luther, Martin, and Milton, John, and Lilburne, John, and Overton, Richard, and Ireton, Henry, and Rainborough, Thomas, and Cromwell, Oliver, and John Wildman. Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938.

Federalist No. 52 (https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed52.asp#:~:text=A%20representative%20of%20the%20United,office%20under%20the%20United%20States.)

What specific events or ideas contributed to its identification as a fundamental right? + create

When was it generally accepted as a fundamental, legally-protectable right? 🖉 edit

The right to vote was first accepted as a fundamental and legally-protectable right with the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788, specifically under Article 1. States were given the right to set their own voting requirements (National Archives and Records Administration). The framers of the Constitution claimed to have aimed to promote the common welfare, ensuring their right to liberty. However, states routinely enfranchised only white male property owners. Although President Andrew Jackson expanded the right to all white males more generally, it took years for African Americans, women, and Native Americans to be granted the same right (The Library of Congress).

In 1870, the 15th Amendment was enacted which declared that the right to vote would not be determined on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (The Library of Congress). Likewise the 19th Amendment in 1920 gave american women the right to vote. The actual realization of the 15th Amendment did not occur for many years following 1870, for many African Americans continued to face barriers which limited their ability to vote. For instance, the use of literacy tests and poll taxes worked to prevent African Americans from voting (The Library of Congress). The Civil Rights Act of 1870 worked in accordance with the 15th Amendment. The Act sought to enforce criminal penalties against the use of intimidation or threats that aimed to prevent African Americans from voting. The subsequent Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 further expanded the enforcement of such penalties (National Archives and Records Administration). Despite previous legislation, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed by President Lyndon Johnson proved to be the most effective at ensuring minorities the right to suffrage.

Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which “outlawed discrimination of the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” and the 24th Amendment which made illegal the use of poll taxes, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed state and federal relations with regards to voting rights. Historically, discrimination from local state officials sought to disenfranchise African Americans. The Voting Rights Act worked by allowing the federal government to register voters, specifically in many states in the south with a history of harsh discriminatory practices. This meant the discontinuation of literacy tests and also allowed for non-english speakers to more readily become registered to vote. It was later in 1971 when the national voting age was lowered to 18 for all political elections (National Archives and Records Administration).


National Archives and Records Administration. (n.d.). The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription. National Archives and Records Administration. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript#toc-section-4-.

The Founders and the Vote : The Right to Vote : Elections : Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress : Library of Congress. The Library of Congress. (n.d.). https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/elections/right-to-vote/the-founders-and-the-vote/.