Census suffrage

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Under census suffrage means a voting system that an unlikely option provides. Only those who can prove certain financial resources are allowed to vote. Evidence is provided by tax revenue, real estate or assets . In some systems, such as the Prussian three-class suffrage , the less fortunate were allowed to vote, but their vote had less weight.


In ancient city-states such as the Attic democracy or the Roman Republic , political rights (participation in the people's assembly , etc.) were tied to a certain income or a minimum property at certain times. The earliest example of this is provided by the timocratic order of the Athenian constitution maker Solon . The consequence of dividing the citizens into different census classes was that for a long time only the wealthiest Athenians could hold the highest state offices, while the poorest (the thetes ) were only allowed full political participation under the reign of Themistocles .

In Rome's most important popular assembly, the Comitia Centuriata , all citizens were divided into census classes in a way that guaranteed that the wealthy sections of the population (including the nobility ) always had the majority of votes in votes. So the census secured them a structural majority over the numerically much larger "simple" people (the plebs ).

In modern times, the census suffrage was largely shaped by France, but was also used in other countries such as Sweden, the USA, Luxembourg, Norway and Spain. Overall, preference for the wealthy was taken for granted in the 19th century and not unusual until the beginning of the 20th century.


As in almost all electoral regulations in the first half of the 19th century, property or taxes also played a central role in the German states. For example, the first German constitutions at the beginning of the 19th century had census voting rights (e.g. according to the constitution of the Kingdom of Bavaria from 1818 and the constitutional document of the Kingdom of Württemberg from 1819). It became the demand of the liberal opposition in the revolution of 1848/49 , while the democratic opposition demanded equal voting rights for men on the principle of "one man - one vote". According to the short-lived Reich election law of April 1849, the members of the People's Chamber of the newly established Reichstag should be elected in equal and direct elections according to the principle of absolute majority voting, so the electoral census would have been eliminated.

After the revolution was, for example, in elections to the Prussian State Parliament a renewed census suffrage in the form of the 1850-1918 three-class franchise (division into three classes according to voter-owned). At the Reich level from 1871 onwards, all men aged 25 and over were allowed to vote for the Reichstag with the same voting weight. Universal suffrage for both sexes was introduced comparatively early after the November Revolution of 1918/19.

Justus Möser (1720–1794) provided a theoretical formulation of the basic idea of ​​census voting rights in his “ Stock Theory ”.

United States

In the USA, there was also census voting. Since the individual states determined the right to vote, there were many different regulations, with some states having a census right up until the second half of the 19th century. The census voting system was often used to discriminate against blacks, who were then required to own more property than whites. It was not until 1871 (and thus in the same year as in the German Reich) that all men at the federal level were given the right to vote. However, in the 1890s, African Americans were again largely excluded by additional regulations.


During the French Revolution , the census suffrage was included in the human and civil rights declaration to which Louis XVI. 1791 took his oath. The Jacobins replaced it with equality of suffrage for men. However, this did not last long. France became a leader in aligning the right to vote on property or tax performance. The census suffrage under Napoleon I, which was also valid for the Rhineland, is an important model for the Prussian three-class suffrage.


In some Swiss cantons , after the liberal revolutions around 1830, there was also a special form of census voting right for a short time. It was not based on tax revenue or property, but privileged the citizenship of the capitals over the rural population, which was only granted a significantly disproportionate representation in the parliaments. The fact that census suffrage existed temporarily at all is explained by the orientation of the Swiss liberals at the time to the upper-class Paris July Revolution of 1830 , which also provided for an electoral census. In the Catholic-Conservative cantons, too, where the revolution had only partially prevailed, an election census was operated, which was primarily directed against non-Catholics.


Universal suffrage was introduced after the Russian Revolution of 1905 .



  • Heinz Boberach : Suffrage issues in the pre-March period. The view of the right to vote in the Rhineland 1815–1849 and the emergence of the three-class suffrage (= contributions to the history of parliamentarism and political parties. 15, ZDB -ID 503528-4 ). Droste, Düsseldorf 1959, (at the same time: Cologne, university, dissertation, 1959).
  • Hans Boldt (ed.): Reich and countries. Texts on German constitutional history in the 19th and 20th centuries (= German 4443). Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-423-04443-8 .
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