Existing Suffrage Requirements

Existing Suffrage Requirements . Exceptions to the Principle of Universal Suffrage : While the principle of what is commonly described as universal suffrage at least for male citizens and in the great majority of countries for women also has now become the general rule, it is hardly necessary to say that the principle is not absolute. No one, as Judge Story well remarked, not even the most strenuous advocate of universal suffrage, has ever yet contended that the privilege Should be absolutely universal, and no one has ever been sufficiently visionary to maintain that all persons of every age, degree, and character should be entitled to vote in all elections for all public officers.

As a matter of fact, all states, even the most democratic, restrict the suffrage to those who by reason of their maturity of age, moral character, and degree of intelligence are believed to be capable of exercising the privilege. In fact, as Barthelemy remarks, the electorate is the elite of the population. Most states deny the privilege to minors, insane persons, and idiots, as pointed out above, a goodly number still exclude women wholly or in part, in most countries the voter must be in possession of his full civil rights and sometimes persons under guardianship are disqualified.

In Brazil members of monastic orders are disqualified (Const. Art. 70). Practically all states debar those who have been convicted of grave crimes, including corrupt practices at elections most of them exclude those who have to be supported by the state,  some Withhold the right from bankrupts, others deny the privilege to vagrants and even to worthy persons who do not have a fixed residence within the electoral district some exclude the holders of certain offices, particularly those whose duties are connected with the management of elections, most European countries exclude persons in the active military service (but not the reserve corps) nearly everywhere voters who are not properly registered are deprived of the exercise of the privilege, and a period of residence in the state or voting district is required.  A few debar persons who do not own property or Pay direct taxes to the state, generally also aliens are excluded.

Soviet Russia, as is well known, goes to the extreme limit of confining the electoral privilege to the working classes, peasants, and soldiers, and of expressly disfranchising employers of working men hired for profit, recipients of income from other sources than their own labor, merchants, traders, commercial brokers, the clergy, monks, and others.

Educational, Property Owning, and Tax-Paying Tests :

Many writers have favored some sort of educational or property owning test, and advocates of such requirements are not lacking to-day. One of the best known of these was-John Stuart Mill, who in his Considerations on Representative Government said, I regard it as wholly inadmissible that any person should participate in the suffrage without being able to read and write, and, I will add, perform the common operations of arithmetic. No One but those in whom a priori theory has silenced common sense will maintain that power over others, and over the whole community, should be imparted to people Who have not acquired the commonest and most essential requisites for taking care of themselves.

It would be eminently desirable, that other things besides reading, writing, and arithmetic should be made necessary, to the suffrage, that some knowledge of the conformation of the earth, its natural and political divisions, the elements of general history and of the history and institutions of their own country, could be required of all electors. Mill, however, properly maintained that where the suffrage is made to depend upon ability to read and write, the state should provide as a matter of justice the means of attaining these accomplishments without cost to the poor, otherwise the requirement becomes a hardship.

Mill also defended tax-paying qualifications as legitimate even in a democratic state. It is important, he asserted, “that the assembly which votes the taxes, either general or local,should be elected exclusively by those who pay something towards the taxes imposed. Those who pay no taxes, disposing by their votes of other people’s money, have every motive to be lavish and none to economize. The voting of taxes by those who do not themselves contribute is a violation of the fundamental principle of free government  representation should be coextensive with taxation.”

Leaky, Sir Henry Maine, Sidgwick, Laveleye, Bluntschli, Treitschke, and other well-known political writers held similar opinions. In practice such requirements were formerly not uncommon. In Italy until 1912 all persons who were unable to read and write and who did not pay a small tax were excluded from voting-qualifications which disfranchised more than 90 per cent of the adult male population of the country.

In that year these restrictions were removed, although the minimum age requirement for illiterates was fixed at thirty years, whereas the attainment of the 2lst year is sufficient for literates. As already stated above, Japan until 1925 had a tax-paying requirement which disfranchised a large portion of the population. The present constitutions of Brazil (Art. 70) and Chile (Art. 7) expressly exclude illiterates. As a consequence of the Brazilian requirement, the number of voters registered at the time of the presidential election in 1922 was only 1,305,000 out of a total population of more than 30,000,000.63 Under the Hungarian electoral law of 1925 male Voters must have had at least three years in the primary schools and females six.

In the United States ability to read and write has been required for many years in the states of Connecticut. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Dela-ware, North Dakota, Wyoming, California, and Washington and for some years also in New York, Arizona, and Oregon. In this list also belong southern states named in the following section.

In Porto Rico ability to read and write is required, and in the Philippine Islands voters must be owners of real estate worth 500 pesos, pay taxes to the amount of 50 pesos annually, or be able to read Spanish, English or some native language.

Negro Suffrage :

In the United States prior to the Civil War only white men could vote in the southern states and in some of the northern states, but the Reconstruction Acts gave the vote to southern Negroes, and the disfranchisement of the negro race, as such, was ended by the fifteenth amendment to the federal constitution (1870). In many southern states, however, the Negroes were so numerous that the dominant white party favored educational and other restrictions to exclude most of them from the franchise.

Mississippi in 1890 took the initiative and adopted a new constitution which required ability either to read the text of the constitution or to understand it when read to the voter by an election officer. South Carolina followed here example in 1895, but with the modification that an illiterate person who was the owner of at least $300 worth of property should not be disfranchised. Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Georgia followed with restrictions based on similar principles. In several of these states, however, the educational qualification did not apply to those who were voters in 1867 .(when the negro race was still unenfranchised), or to their descendants (the so-called “grandfather clause”), or to those who served in the army or navy during the Civil War.
In a number of these states the payment of a poll tax is required (as it is also in Arkansas and Tennessee), while in others it is an alternative to the educational requirement. These restrictions were contested as being in violation of the fifteenth amendment to the federal constitution, but so far as the educational and tax-paying requirements were concerned their constitutionality was upheld by the United States Supreme Court. The so-called “grandfather” provisions were, however, pronounced unconstitutional.

In some of the British possessions educational or property qualification are required for reasons similar to those which led to their adoption in the southern states of the American Union. Thus in Natal, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony the blacks are entirely disfranchised, and in Barbados they are largely so, as a result of high property-owning requirement. In Cape Colony there are restrictions which debar large numbers of them and their complete ,disfranchisement is widely demanded.

Merits of the Literacy Test :

Leaving aside states in which there is a large black population and in which educational tests are defended as a means for the protection of the white population against the rule of the colored race–a legitimate measure of self-preservation, according to many writers,-we may consider the merits of property-owning and educational qualifications in those states in which no such defense can be invoked. Stated in simple terms the question comes to this: shall a normal adult citizen of the community, of good moral character not otherwise disqualified, be denied a share in the government to which he is subject, for the reason that he does not possess the elements of an education, is not a property owner, and does not contribute by the payment of taxes to the maintenance of the government which aids and protects him?

There ought to be no difference of opinion that the voter should be sufficiently educated to be able to exercise the electoral function intelligently, but when we have laid down this apparently simple proposition we are still far from a definite workable principle. The electoral function varies in the degree of its complexity from the choice of a local officer to the election on the same ballot of several score of officers, local, state, and national from voting on a proposed bond issue for the building of a schoolhouse, to voting on thirty or forty proposed laws, some of which only lawyers or other specialists are capable of understanding.

To insist that the voter should be sufficiently educated to cast a really intelligent ballot in some of the referendum elections that have taken place in the United States would probably debar 90 per cent of the adult population from exercising the suffrage. John Stuart Mill, as pointed out above, thought no person should be allowed to vote who was unable to read and write and perform the common operations of arithmetic, and most of the educational tests that have been adapted have been based on the assumption that ability to read or write, or both, is evidence of capacity to vote intelligently and wisely, that it is a true measure of fitness for participation in political life-a fitness which the illiterate man does not possess.

But as Lord Bryce very properly pointed out, this assumption is of doubtful validity. Every one, he said, knows or has known intelligent workingmen, farmers, peasants who for one reason or another never learned to read or write-white men of this type were numerous in the southern states during the period following the Civil War and were not lacking in England-but who nevertheless had plenty of mother Wit and by their strong sense and solid judgment were quite as well qualified to Vote as are their grandchildren today who read a newspaper and revel in the cinema.

Moreover, as Lord Bryce pertinently added, the printed page, the ability to read which is regarded as a test of capacity to vote, may contain as much falsehood as truth-especially if it be a party organ which suppresses some facts and misrepresents others-and he who derives his information regarding political issues from it may be no better off than his grandfather who eighty years ago voted at the bidding of his landlord or his employer.

Finally, high intellectual attainments in science or other fields of knowledge is no guarantee against crass ignorance in respect of public affairs, and every one has known voters with college educations who were less informed upon such matters than their uneducated neighbors who were artisans and workingmen.

Nevertheless, when all is said that can be said against the literacy test as evidence in itself of fitness for voting, it does not indicate that an educational requirement for the suffrage is unsound in principle. It only asserts that mere ability to read and write does not necessarily equip one with the information which one ought to have, and must have, to decide wisely questions of public policy submitted to him for his opinion: An educational test, like the principle of weighted voting is perfectly sound in principle the difficulty lies in the lack of a just and practical criterion by which it can be applied.

Property Owning and Tax-Paying Tests :

The property owning or tax-paying requirement is, to many persons, open to the same Objections. On the one hand, the state may be regarded as a sort of stock holding company in which only those who possess property can properly be considered shareholders or as an agency for the protection of those only who contribute by the taxes which they pay for its maintenance. But to proceed on such a theory would, as in the case of the educational test, lead to manifest injustice in many cases.

The ownership of property gained by toil, industry, and thrift may very properly be regarded as evidence of the fitness of the owner for a share in the government which determines the conditions under which he may acquire, use, and dispose of property, and which exacts contributions of him on the basis of its value, but can the owner of property not acquired in this way lay claim to the same right?

Is it just to disfranchise and disqualify from office holding the otherwise worthy citizen who in consequence of adversity and misfortune finds himself without property ? It may be seriously doubted. The tax-paying test has more to commend it.

It is entirely conceivable that it would be a hardship in specific cases to insist upon the ownership of property as a condition of voting when it would not be so to require the payment of a small tax in part return for the protection which, as a member of the state, the voter receives.

In short, the ownership of property and the payment of contributions for the maintenance of the state stand on different footings and are not interdependent.