Census suffrage means that only those who meet strict requirements, usually income or status, can vote in an election. Leaving the majority of the population out of the right to vote.
Census suffrage is the first type of suffrage that was used in the elections that took place years ago. And, although it is obsolete in many countries due to advances in democracy, some continue to use it.
This consists of establishing barriers to the right to vote or suffrage, limits based on income, wealth or status. Leaving, in this way, most of the population out of the right. This supposes that the citizens who take part of the decisions constitute the minority of the total of the inhabitants.
However, a clear distinction must be made between restrictions on universal suffrage and census suffrage.
The obvious limits of universal suffrage do not imply a restriction on the use of the right, they are minimum requirements such as the age of majority, being a citizen of said territory or not being criminally deprived of the right. On the other hand, the census taker does establish discriminatory requirements such as income, race or gender.
Origin and history of census suffrage
We can locate the origin of census suffrage in ancient Greece. Athenian democracy was the first democratic system that we know of. Decisions were made jointly in the Assembly, made up of some six thousand citizens. And the positions of responsibility could be filled by any citizen, establishing the lottery as the method of choice.
Now, in order to have access to public life, one had to be a citizen. And, unlike now, this concept was much more restricted. Male men over twenty years of age, of Athenian parents, were considered as such. In addition, they were not considered: women, slaves, metecos and minors.
Thus the first system of census suffrage was established, since only those considered as citizens had a voice and vote in political decisions and deliberations.
After the Greek case, census suffrage did not reappear until the 19th century with the decline of absolute monarchies and the establishment of the first contemporary democracies.
With the recognition of the popular election, census suffrage appeared again, whose limits varied according to the country in question. In the UK, property owners could vote; in the US the black population was prohibited from voting; and in other countries, such as Argentina, educational requirements were established.
Later, the census suffrage evolved to the universal masculine one. Although, finally, in most countries it would be universal.
Census suffrage restrictions
As we have mentioned, to vote in an election under this system, the voter had to meet a series of very restrictive requirements. A country did not have to have each and every one of the restrictions that we are going to see below, but it did have some of them.
- Rent: It assumed that only people with a certain level of income had the right to vote.
- Heritage: The voter is required to have property. Thus acquiring a greater awareness in their vote, at least in favor of private property.
- Education: Educational level is also a barrier that was used at various times. Especially illiteracy, since you could vote if you knew how to read and write.
- Black population: This was the case in the United States until well into the 20th century. Although it was also carried out in other countries such as South Africa until the end of apartheid.
- Women: They have been perhaps the most affected in terms of suffrage. Even when some of the previous restrictions were dropped, the woman was still ineligible for the vote. It was already in the new democracies when universal suffrage was established.
- Minorities: In addition to the black population in countries where the white race has been dominant, other ethnic and religious minorities were also prohibited from voting.