Types of Suffrage
There are two types of suffrage:
(i) Limited or Restricted Suffrage
(ii) Unlimited or Universal Adult suffrage
Limited or Restricted Suffrage
Limited suffrage is the type of suffrage where the fight to vote and to be voted for is not extended to all citizens but only to those who meet the criteria laid down by law. These criteria may be arbitrary and discriminatory. Suffrage may be restricted by sex, property, qualification, race, social status, religion or residency, etc. This type of suffrage leaves a good number of citizens disenfranchised. It negates fair play and democracy. It encourages political inequality and limited political enlightenment.
Universal Adult Suffrage/Unlimited Suffrage
Universal Adult suffrage allows all qualified adults the right to vote and be voted for irrespective of sex, religion, race, and economic status. However, individuals are still to meet some qualifications to enjoy voting rights. Such conditions are universal, not arbitrary nor discriminatory. It is democratic.
Qualification of Suffrage
(i) Age: Citizens that are of age as specified in the constitution of that country exercise voting rights. Age qualifications vary in countries. In Nigeria, the USA, and Britain, the voting age is 18 years, but 20 years in Germany.
(ii) Citizenship: Only citizens are allowed to vote in many countries.
(iii) Sanity: Individuals that are mentally balanced, sane and rational are allowed to vote.
(iv) Residence: Any individual has a qualifying period of time he or she must have resided in an area to enjoy voting rights. Usually, the period for being voted for is always longer than voting for others.
(v) Registration: All qualified citizens are to register to participate in elections. Registration empowers voters. The electoral commission register voters for election and the data derived from the exercise is utilized for planning election.
Merit of Universal Adult Suffrage
(i) It grants qualified citizens equal opportunity to vote one man, one vote.
(ii) It is democratic, constitutional and promotes equity and fair play.
(iii) Election results reflect popular choice, political sovereignty.
(iv) It promotes greater political participation as more people participate.
(v) It does not discriminate against some groups in the society. It promotes fair play.
(vi) It promotes political enlightenment.
Demerits of Universal Adult Suffrage
(i) It allows many adults who may not be rational and objective to vote.
(ii) It may breed electoral malpractice as the electoral commission may not effectively control the large number of voters that may be participating in elections.
(iii) Majority of the voters are poor. Many of the voters end up selling their votes to the highest bidder.
(iv) There is increase in intimidation, thuggery and harassment of opponents. All these encourage political apathy.