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You probably heard it countless times. So, what does suffrage mean? The etymology explains it all. In Latin, the word “suffragium” means ballot, vote, or right to vote. Further, we can distinguish two types of voting rights. It is associated with either public elections or referendums. 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. Lastly, a possible synonym you may encounter is “franchise” or “political franchise.”

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. This rule is a must for democracy to work. 

1916’s Women’s Suffragist Protest, USA

The history of voting rights is very complicated. It is not too long ago when, 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. That meant that all males now had the right to vote.

However, women were still 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. The country was the first to give voting rights to women.
In some countries, 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. Sadly, there still are places around the world where voting rights are severely limited.