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Elective rights

From Academic Kids

One important issue in a democracy is the limitations on rights to candidate and on suffrage or franchise—that is the decision as to who ought to be entitled to vote. In the Athenian democracy, slaves, foreigners and women were prohibited from voting. These, and racial prohibitions, have been common in democracies. Often they are closely connected to legal personhood issues.

campaigners working on posters in Milan, Italy, 2004
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campaigners working on posters in Milan, Italy, 2004

Generally, franchise may be restricted on account of:

  • age (in all democracies),
  • gender,
  • nationality,
  • race,
  • religion,
  • wealth,
  • birth (inherited social status),
  • education,
  • previous crimes, etc.

Nowadays, most democracies agree that only age, citizenship and (in some jurisdictions) previous crimes are the only restrictions which are compatible with the definition of a modern democracy. One prominent exception to this is the limited voting rights permitted to denizens of the capital of the United States, Washington, DC (see District of Columbia voting rights).

A recent example of how the "right to vote" changed over history is New Zealand, which was the first country to give women the right to vote (September 19, 1893), however not the right to be elected. Women voting and participating in politics in Europe and the Americas is, largely, a 20th century phenomenon.

Sex equity has been recognized in other ways in other societies, however. The Iroquois Confederacy gave a strong political role to women as far back as its origins in the 12th century, although as in 19th century New Zealand, this was expressed as support for a specific male, not the right to sit in council. However, they like many Native American societies recognized rituals to allow post-menopausal or powerful widowed women to assume the role of a man—it is likely that at some point in its long history, the Confederacy permitted a full and formal role to women using some such provision. Records and dates are however incomplete.

There are more limited alternative voting and official appointing systems that claim to be democratic. Some one-party states such as the People's Republic of China apply a limited form of disapproval voting that has the effect of signalling the acceptance of those promoted into new posts, who do not generally rise further if they do not receive very high (over 80%) acceptance.

Under perestroika, shortly before its collapse, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics under Mikhail Gorbachev implemented reforms to allow multiple candidates, all from the local Communist Party, to run against each other. Such methods are not generally considered to provide equivalent political expression to a right to replace the entire top level of governments at once, as occurs in a multi-party system.

Another means of limited democracy is that practiced in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the right to run as a candidate is controlled by the religious authorities, who exclude among others the Communist Party and the Green Party of Iran. Recent elections in Iran have suffered from very low turnout.

In the United States of America, restrictions on right to vote due to property ownership or lack thereof and literacy were common until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today all but a few states deny the right to vote to those who have suffered a felony conviction at any point in their past.

a poster for the European Parliament election 2004 in Italy, showing party lists
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a poster for the European Parliament election 2004 in Italy, showing party lists

In the European Union every citizen has the right to participate in the elections of the European Parliament. However, not every vote is counted equally: Voters from bigger countries are significantly underrepresented relative to voters from smaller countries. E.g., a vote from Luxembourg carries 12 times as much weight as does a vote from Germany. It should be noted however, that many jurisdictions have similar problems with the distribution of votes per region. In the US, a Californian vote carries four times the weight of a Montana vote in the presidential election. [1] (http://www.eleves.ens.fr:8080/home/madore/misc/us-voting.html)

No broad franchise has ever come into existence on its own in any country—all democracies in effect come into existence with a limited, elite, franchise, that only over time becomes more inclusive.

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