Universal Adult Suffrage | Definition, Merits & Demerits

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Universal Adult Suffrage or Unlimited Franchise | Definition, Advantages and Disadvantages

Universal adult suffrage is sometimes called unlimited suffrage or unlimited franchise. It means that every citizen who has reached the age of maturity has the right to vote. In practice, the universal adult suffrage does not operate in any country.

It is not possible to extend the franchise to everybody whether man or woman, sane or insane, criminal or law abiding, black or white, educated or uneducated. The closest system to this is the adult suffrage with some minor modifications.

What is Suffrage?
Suffrage is the political rights of qualified adult male and female citizens of a given country to vote and be voted for in any political election. Everybody can vote in the system, those that are qualified to vote are referred to as the electorate, and those to be voted for are called candidates. However, the right to vote and be voted for, differs from country to country.

This type of franchise is the most popular and universally acknowledged. It is constitutional and democratic. All qualified adults male and female are allowed to vote and be voted for in this system. However, there are still some qualifications to be met by individual before voting. The conditions or qualifications are not restrictive as in limited franchise / suffrage.

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Qualifications Required to Vote in Unlimited Franchise

Qualifications required to vote or be voted for in universal adult suffrage system includes;

Age
Age is one of the qualifications necessary for voting. In Nigeria, for example, only 18 years and above can vote. Britain and USA are also 18 years. Voting in Germany is 20 years while India is 21 years.

Citizenship
Only the legal citizens and those that are citizens through naturalization are qualified to vote and be voted for in most democratic systems.

Registration
Citizens can only vote in a system, if they are properly registered and issued with voters cards.

Sanity
A voter must have all the sense in an acceptable manner before he or she can vote.

Bankruptcy
Those declared bankrupt cannot vote and be voted for.

Residence
In many countries, voters must have lived up to a stipulated number of years or months before he/she can vote or be voted for in that country.

Alien
Non-citizens are not allowed to vote to be voted for.

Criminals
Criminals and those with criminal records may be disqualified from voting in some political systems.

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Under-Age
In Nigeria, USA and United Kingdom, for example, those below 18 years cannot vote or be voted for in any election.

Insanity
insane people who cannot vote in any political elections

The above-mentioned points – bankruptcy, residence, alien, criminals, underage, insanity ETC are some of the conditions that can disqualify an individual for putting in any political elections.

Advantages of Universal Adult Suffrage

The following arguments are usually adduced in support of universal adult suffrage.

  1. Universal adult suffrage enables every citizen to participate in public affairs. It is the fundamental right of a citizen to take part in politics. It makes opportunity for full participation for all qualified citizens to exercise their voting rights in the political system.
  2. Where the franchise is only granted to few group of citizens such as property owners, public policies would only benefit the minority. Universal suffrage is more democratic and makes for full participation of the majority of the citizens in the decision-making process of the country.
  3. The people should not be deprived of their right to vote on flimsy grounds.
  4. The interest of the deprived groups can only be adequately represented in the legislature or government where there is universal adult suffrage.
  5. Universal suffrage may make the government popular. As far as the majority have exercised their franchise, the elected representatives is a reflection of popular choice.
  6. There is a quality of voting. Every qualified adult has one vote. In fact, it is one man, one vote. Also, the method does not allow for discrimination based on race, religion, sex, wealth, etc.
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Disadvantages of Universal Adult Suffrage

Although Universal adult suffrage is considered more acceptable than restrictedted suffrage, it has been criticized on the following grounds.

  1. Not all adults understanding the issues involved in voting. Majority of the voters do not properly understanding the manifesto and suitability or otherwise of the candidate before the elections. Lack of political education in most cases could work against unlimited franchise system.
  2. The majority of the voters – male and female are illiterate and the possibility of voting blindly cannot be rule out.
  3. The involvement of many people in voting is capable of producing electoral malpractices, cheating and violence.
  4. It can bring about victimization and intimidation of political opponents in the system.
  5. Universal adult suffrage does not take account of the level of development in different countries.
  6. The elected representatives may not be true representatives of the people because, the voters were influenced and so they may voted wrongly.

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