voting rights

Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise—distinct from other rights to vote—is the right to vote gained through the democratic process. The right to run for office is sometimes called candidate eligibility, and the combination of both rights is sometimes called full suffrage. In many languages, the right to vote is called the active right to vote and the right to run for office is called the passive right to vote. In English, these are sometimes called active suffrage and passive suffrage. Suffrage is often conceived in terms of elections for representatives. However, suffrage applies equally to initiatives and referenda. Suffrage describes not only the legal right to vote, but also the practical question of whether a question will be put to a vote. The utility of suffrage is reduced when important questions are decided unilaterally by elected or non-elected representatives. In most democracies, eligible voters can vote in elections of representatives. Voting on issues by initiative may be available in some jurisdictions but not others. For example, while some U.S. states such as California and Washington have exercised their shared sovereignty to offer citizens the opportunity to write, propose, and vote on referendums and initiatives, other states have not. Meanwhile, the United States federal government does not offer any initiatives at all. On the other hand, many countries, such as Switzerland, permit initiatives at all levels of government. Suffrage is granted to qualifying citizens once they have reached the voting age. What constitutes a qualifying citizen depends on the government’s decision, but most democracies no longer extend different rights to vote on the basis of sex or race. Resident aliens can vote in some countries, and other countries make exceptions for citizens of countries they have close links to (e.g., some members of the Commonwealth of Nations and members of the European Union).