Suffrage, Meaning, Evolution and Conditions of Exercising Suffrage
What is Suffrage?
Suffrage is the right to vote in a public or political election. It is the inalienable right of citizens to vote in an election. This is granted to only qualified citizens who are of the voting age of the state and have met other qualifications as defined by the law of the state.
Other qualifications may include residency, mental balance, registration, property, sex, and education.
Franchise is the political right of qualified citizens to vote and be voted for in an election.
The terms franchise and suffrage both refer to the same thing – the ability and right of someone to vote in an election.
History of Evolution of Suffrage:
Before 1900 different types of voting existed and suffrage was extended to a very selected few. Qualification of suffrage passed through several stages until age qualification was achieved in most countries.
(i) Nobility Suffrage/Membership of some Association: In the medieval age in Europe, suffrage was granted to only the privileged noble class because of the position they occupied in society.
(ii) Property Suffrage: Qualification of suffrage was lowered in the 18th century. Individual revolution in Europe saw the emergence of a new class of few rich men other than the noble class who demanded that suffrage be extended to them due to their newfound wealth. This was granted resulting in the privileged being granted multiple voting rights. This created its own challenge.
(iii) Male Adult Suffrage: This type of suffrage existed in the late 19th century. Male adult citizens were allowed to vote. All social impediments or restrictions on adult male citizens from voting were removed.
(iv) Adult Suffrage: In the early 20th century, adult suffrage was extended to women in Belgium, 1918 in Great Britain, 1920 in the United States of America, 1939 in Italy, France, and Japan, 1954 in Southern Nigeria, and 1979 in Northern Nigeria.
(v) Universal Adult Suffrage/Unlimited Suffrage: Unlimited Suffrage is the right of all qualified citizens (male and female) to vote and be voted for irrespective of sex, religion, race, or economic standing.
Conditions for Exercising Suffrage:
(i) Age: Age qualifies citizens to vote. This varies from one country to another. In Nigeria, the voting age is 18 years.
(ii) Citizenship: To vote in a country, you need to be a legal, bona fide member of the state.
(iii) Mental Balance: A voter in the state must be mentally sound. He must be sane enough to make informed decisions on voting in an election.
(iv) Residence: To vote one must have lived in the country or that part of the country for a considerable period of time. In Nigeria, if you relocate to a new area after registration, you need to inform INEC so that your voting centre can be transferred to a centre nearest to you, in order not to be disenfranchised.
Disenfranchised: To deprive of a privilege, immunity, or right of citizenship, especially the right to vote;
(v) Registration: A voter needs to register. It is the duty of the electoral commission to make adequate preparation for voter registration.
(vi) Sex: In some countries, the sex of voters is a condition to exercise suffrage also. Women are restricted from vying for some elective offices in some countries.
(vii) Education: Education qualification is still an important restriction. There are different levels of educational qualification for different electoral offices e.g. in Nigeria, the constitution or electoral laws specify education qualifications for each elective post.