Universal suffrage (also general suffrage or common suffrage) is the extension of voting privileges to all adults, without distinction to race, sex, belief or social status.
The Movement for Universal Suffrage was a social, economic and political movement aimed at extending suffrage (the right to vote) to people of all races.
The first movements toward universal suffrage (or manhood suffrage) occurred in the early 19th century, and were focused at removing property requirements for voting. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the focus of universial suffrage was intended to remove requirements against women having the right to vote.
Many societies in the past have denied people the right to vote on the basis of race or ethnicity. Examples of this include the exclusion of people of African descent from voting in apartheid-era South Africa. In the pre-Civil Rights Era American South blacks were technically allowed to vote, but were prevented from exercising the vote by various means. The Ku Klux Klan formed after the Civil War largely to intimidate blacks and prevent them from voting.
Most universal suffrage systems still exclude some potential voters. For example, many jurisdictions deny the vote to various categories of convicted criminals, and almost all jurisdictions deny the vote to non-citizen residents.
Universal suffrage has been granted (and been revoked) at various times in various countries throughout the world. (in chronological order):
- Finland -- 1906 (in local elections: 1917)
- Norway -- 1913
- Denmark -- 1915 (with Iceland)
- Russia -- 1917
- Ireland -- 1918
- After defeat in World War I
- Luxembourg - 1919
- The Netherlands - 1919
- Sweden -- 1921
- Lithuania -- 1922
- United Kingdom -- 1928
- Spain -- 1931
- France -- 1944
- Italy -- 1945
- Belgium -- 1948
- Greece -- 1952
- Australia -- 1962 (previously not granted to Aborigines)
- United States -- 1965 (previously not granted to Blacks in all states)
- Portugal -- 1976
- Liechtenstein -- 1984
- Switzerland -- 1990
- South Africa -- 1994