- Date: 14th century
- 1 : a short intercessory prayer usually in a series
- 2 : a vote given in deciding a controverted question or electing a person for an office or trust
- 3 : the right of voting : franchise; also : the exercise of such right
Suffrage, political franchise, or simply the franchise is the civil right to vote, or the exercise of that right. In English, suffrage and its synonyms are sometimes also used to mean the right to run for office (to be a candidate), but there are no established qualifying terms to distinguish between these different meanings of the term(s). The right to run for office is sometimes called (candidate) eligibility, and the combination of both rights is sometimes called full suffrage. In many other languages, the right to vote is called the active right to vote and the right to be voted for (to run for office) is called the passive right to vote. In English, these are rarely called active suffrage and passive suffrage.
Suffrage may apply to elections, but also extends to initiatives and referendums. Suffrage is used to describe not only the legal right to vote, but also to the practical question of the opportunity to vote, which is sometimes denied those who have a legal right. In the United States, extension of suffrage was part of Jacksonian democracy.
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, Switzerland permits initiatives at all levels of government whereas the United States does not offer initiatives at the federal level or in many states. That new constitutions must be approved by referendum is natural law.
Typically citizens become eligible to vote after reaching the age of legal adulthood. Most democracies no longer extend different voting rights on the basis of sex or race. Resident aliens can vote in some countries and in others exceptions are made for citizens of countries with which they have close links (e.g. some members of the Commonwealth of Nations, and the members of the European Union).