Universal adult franchise ensures that all adult citizens have the right to vote
and elect their representative irrespective of their gender, wealth, caste, or
any other basis. The word franchise derives from the French word franc
meaning free. Adult franchise provides citizens free right to choose their
representative. This is based on the right to equality.
To deny the right to
vote is to deny the right to equality, it is to deny one the right to take part
in democracy and let their voice be heard. The concept of democracy rests on
Universal Adult Franchise. It helps in the governance of their states.
Universal adult suffrage provides every citizen above a particular age the right
to vote in election. This age differs from country to country. In countries like
Japan and Denmark the age for voting is 25, while in India, Russia, US it is 18
and in Norway it is 21. In India, the age for voting changed from 21 to 18 as
per the 61st Constitutional Amendment.
Universal Adult Franchise has been implemented in different stages and time in
different countries. These depended upon the then economic and political
situation of the country. This article goes over the evolution of Universal
Adult Suffrage in countries like France, US, UK and India and then it proceeds
to analyse the influence the principle has on democracy.
French Revolution And Universal Adult Suffrage
During the French Revolution, Louis XIV formally recognized the National
Assembly and thus, in 1791, France became a constitutional monarchy made with
the aim of limiting the powers of monarch and avoiding the concentration of
powers in the hands of one. As per the 1791 Constitution, the National Assembly
was indirectly elected with the general population electing a group of electors
who then proceeds to elect the members of the National Assembly.
election did not follow the universal adult suffrage, rather they only
recognized men who paid tax worth three days of labour as a citizen and only
allowed them to vote. The rest of the people in France were identified as
passive citizens. Their Constitution started with the Declaration of Right of
Citizens and Man which promised to treat all citizens equal.
Women were also active participants in French Revolution. Women began joining
newspapers and clubs to discuss their issues and voice them. The Society of
Revolutionary and Republican Women were one of the most famous women's club
started at this time, and one of their strongest issues was the lack of right to
vote for women in France. Women weren't allowed to vote in elections until 200
years later when the fight for women's suffrage was aligned with other
international protests. The law for this was enacted in 1944, and the first
such elections were conducted in 1945.
Universal Adult Suffrage In USA
The Universal Adult Suffrage began in USA with the Reynolds V Sims judgement
where the decision was based on the one man, one vote principle. It was
mentioned in the judgement that the denial to right to vote freely to one's
candidate of one's choice violates the idea of representative government. In
the 17th century, there were some qualifications required to vote in elections �
it could be property qualification or a religious test. Property qualification
involving allowing those with property only to vote, while in the latter,
religious test involves swearing faith to a particular religion or a sect.
The US Constitution was formed on March 9, 1789. In the beginning it wasn't
mentioned who all can vote. Each state could determine who could vote in that
particular state's elections. In some states, Blacks who were not enslaved and
had property were allowed to vote, while in others this right was denied. Some
states only allowed white males to vote, while other states allowed men of all
races to vote.
The Woman Suffrage movement in US started in the 19th century with women like
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone leading the movements. Wyoming was the
first state to provide women the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was passed on
1920 realizing that a Constitutional Amendment was required.
Universal Adult Suffrage In India
In the pre-independence period only 13% of the Indians were allowed to vote. The
Motilal Nehru Report was one of the first to demand for universal adult suffrage
along with equal rights for women. Dr.B.R.Ambedkar also asked for universal
adult suffrage to the Simon Commission. India finally adopted Universal Adult
Suffrage when the Constitution was enacted in 1949 and implemented on January
India after obtaining independence from British in 1947 formed a Constituent
Assembly, which formed the Indian Constitution. It was agreed that India would
follow the principle of Universal Adult Suffrage in April 1947. Though India had
electoral institutions earlier, it only catered to the rich men. The 61st
Amendment of the Indian Constitution changed the voting age from 21 to 18 by
amending the Article 326. India had an instant suffrage movement where all the
citizens above the age were allowed to vote instantly, while in other countries
the principle broadened over time.
Universal Adult Suffrage And Democracy
The Indian Constitution promises India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular,
democratic republic in its preamble. The principle of Universal Suffrage helps
India to fulfil these promises. In India, the citizens are considered as
sovereign as they are the supreme authority, and they are the supreme authority
because they have the right to choose or remove the government. The term
republic refers to the supreme power being held in the hands of the citizens and
the representatives chosen by the citizens. These rights are provided by this
principle and exercised through voting.
Socialism in India refers to absence of discrimination based on caste, creed,
gender or race and secularism refers to absence of discrimination based on
religion and state allowing everyone to practice, profess, propagate their
religion. Universal Adult Suffrage allows every citizen to be the sovereign by
providing each and every sane adult to vote without any discrimination.
As mentioned earlier, this principle is the essence of democracy where the
citizens are given the right to choose their representatives through elections
and this right is not denied to anyone. Thus Universal Suffrage concedes India
to fulfil all the promises made in the Preamble, and shaping it into a
However, this principle does not guarantee the extant of democracy. For
instance, the Constitution of China promised Universal Suffrage in 1947 and
women began voting only in 1953, but China is an authoritarian state or as the
Constitution of People's Republic of China calls it, people's democratic
The main reason China cannot be termed as a democracy is that,
only one major party and other parties allied to it are allowed to contest
elections, that is, China follows a single party system. Hence, even though
elections are held in China, people are not given any real choice. Freedom of
speech and expression is also deeply curtailed in China, that is, Universal
Adult Suffrage is a requirement for a healthy democracy, but not the only
essential of a democracy.
Universal Adult Suffrage is the foundation of a representative democracy.
Equality is necessary for running a nation peacefully as well as maintaining the
welfare of people. Universal Adult Suffrage is a reflection of equality. It
upholds equality by providing all citizens the right to vote in elections
thereby ensuring their needs and interests are met. It holds a country together.
Universal franchise has evolved over many years in countries like France and US
which have been termed as incremental suffrage.
The impact the principle had on these countries are also different. In many
countries the fight for it, brought them together, while in others it brought
them all to a position of equality. Many countries are left to enact this
principle, and there are also countries who has this principle, but it is not
followed. For the healthy running of the day to day matters of a country
Universal Suffrage is vital. Universal adult suffrage is not just the heart of
democracy, it is also the core of a peaceful country.
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