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What does suffrage mean? The etymology explains it all. In Latin, the word “suffragium” means ballot, vote, or right to vote. Hence, suffrage is a voting right. A possible synonym you may encounter is “franchise” or “political franchise.”

We can recognize two types of voting rights. Firstly, the active form, which allows you to vote for someone. Secondly, people can vote for you in elections for a political office – a passive type. 

Universal Suffrage

Universal suffrage is the right for all citizens to vote in public elections or referendums. Everyone can vote regardless of sex, income, status, religion, political belief, or ethnicity. However, there are always some rules. In most cases, there is a restriction on minimum age and residency. Without them, democracy would not work.

1916’s Women’s Suffragist Protest in the USA

Further rules are how actual vote casting works. A secret ballot suggests that the identity of the voter stays private. Nobody but the person can know for who they voted. To vote for a specific person or party is a direct election. On the other hand, indirect elections mean that the vote goes to an intermediary. That person then chooses in their name. The electoral college in the USA is an example of indirect elections.

Besides the rules, the organizer of the elections (the state) must guarantee safe a fair elections. Prevention from fraud is one of the most crucial aspects. A form of unfair election practice is gerrymandering. Trying to discourage people from voting is voter suppression


The history of voting rights is very complicated. Not too long ago, even in civilized countries, not all citizens had the right to vote or “be voted.” Thus, they could not participate in politics. The 19th century slowly introduced general male suffrage. Hence, all males now had the right to vote.

However, women were left out. Hence, women’s suffrage movements took place globally during the late 19th century and 20th centuries. One of the most famous suffragettes was Kate Sheppard from New Zealand. It was the first country to give voting rights to women.

In some states, minorities still did not have the right to vote. Thus, the struggle for universal voting rights continued. For example, Black citizens in the USA only received voting rights in 1965. To this day, there still are countries where voting rights are severely limited.