Suffrage – What is it, concept, characteristics, functions, types

We explain what suffrage is, its characteristics, functions and types that exist. Also, differences between vote and suffrage.

In democracy, suffrage does not distinguish by race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.

What is suffrage?

Suffrage (or right to vote) is the political and constitutional right to participate in electoral events, that is, is the right to vote to elect public office and make political decisions. It is a concept as old as democracy, linked to eligibility for political participation, since every democratic consultation system presents its minimum requirements, which have changed substantially throughout history.

Thus, for example, in Athenian democracy only male citizens, free, of legal age and Athenian by birth could have a voice and vote. On the contrary, in modern democracy gender distinctions have been abolished (thanks to the struggle for female suffrage) in favor of a universal suffrage model.

Even so, there are constitutional restrictions on who has the right to vote, depending on each country. In some, foreign residents do not vote, for example, or vote only in certain elections.

The suffrage today it is inseparable from democracyIn such a way that the guarantee of universal, free and secret suffrage is the minimum that is required of a government to be called democratic (although, on the other hand, this alone is not enough to guarantee the functioning of a democracy).

But, in modern democracies, the possibility to vote is granted without distinction of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation, and without the need for qualifying tests. It is only required that the minimum age established and a minimum mental health requirement be met.

Characteristics of suffrage

Understood in the terms of modern democracy, suffrage is characterized by being:

  • Free: It is exercised according to one’s own will and conscience.
  • Universal: No restrictions other than the age of majority and sanity.
  • Secret: This avoids repercussions, extortion or punishment from the powerful.

In addition, it covers two forms of law:

  • Active suffrage: It is the possibility to choose.
  • Passive suffrage: It is the possibility of being elected.

The term is often used to refer to voting (that is, voting), but they are not really the same.

What is the function of suffrage?

Suffrage fulfills the purpose of political participation, that is, allows citizens to play some role in the conduct of their states, through the election of political representatives, the approval of measures consulted to the people, or the nomination to play a role in the leadership of the State. When there is suffrage, people have the right to participate politically.

Types of suffrage

social right feminism vote history
Collectives of women fought for women’s suffrage since the early 20th century.

We can differentiate some types of suffrage, beyond active (right to choose) and passive (right to be elected), such as the following:

  • Universal suffrage, when all citizens of legal age and legally able to do so can participate in the running of the country, without distinction of race, creed, sex or sexual orientation.
  • Restricted suffrage, when only a certain group of citizens has the right to vote and to be voted, as was the case in South Africa during the years of “apartheid”, a system of racial exclusion that, among other things, prevented blacks from voting.
  • Mandatory suffrage, is the one that governs in certain countries where voting during an election of any kind constitutes a constitutional mandate and therefore cannot be avoided or evaded without receiving some sanction.
  • Voluntary suffrage, is the one that governs in the countries in which voting is totally optional and does not constitute an obligation, but only a right.
  • Female suffrage, name with which the historical struggle on the part of women’s groups for the right to vote was called. The nickname of its militants is famous: “suffragettes”.

Vote and suffrage

When speaking of vote and suffrage, it is not necessarily the same thing, although it is possible to use the second term as a metaphor for the first. That is, we can speak of suffrage to refer to the vote, but they are not really the same.

Voting is the act of voting, to go to the polls and make a decision on the matter consulted; while suffrage is the right to vote, that is, the right to carry out said action, either as a voter or as a candidate. So voting is a concrete action, while suffrage is a citizen’s right.