Universal Suffrage

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Universal Suffrage


a system of electoral rights under which the right to participate in elections to representative bodies is granted to all citizens who have reached the age established by the law without any electoral qualifications whatsoever.

Universal suffrage—one of the major principles of electoral rights which determines the conditions of citizens’ electoral rights and the degree of democracy of a given society—has a very pronounced class character. The meaning of universal suffrage is different in socialist and bourgeois societies. According to the Constitution of the USSR (art. 135) universal suffrage means that all citizens who have reached the age of 18—regardless of their race or nationality, sex, religion, educational or residential qualifications, social origin, property status, or past activities—have the right to participate in elections to all the representative bodies of state power. Women enjoy the same rights to vote and be elected as men, and citizens in the armed forces have the same rights to vote and be elected as all other citizens.

The right to be elected a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR is granted to citizens who have reached the age of 23. Citizens who have reached the age of 21 may be elected deputies to the supreme Soviets of the Union and autonomous republics, and citizens who have reached the age of 18, deputies to local Soviets. Only persons who have been declared legally insane do not have the right to vote. Before the adoption of the Constitution of the USSR of 1936, representatives of the exploiting classes were denied suffrage. This temporary limitation was made necessary by the bitter class struggle.

The universality of elections is an important and effective form of participation by Soviet citizens in the formation and activity of the bodies of state power. This principle is guaranteed by the political base of Soviet society (the power of the toiling people) and its economic base (the socialist economic system and socialist ownership of the implements and means of production) and is ensured by the procedure of compiling voters’ lists, organizing election precincts, holding elections on nonworking days, and providing the opportunity for citizens to vote when away from their permanent residence (on long train trips, on ships, and in hospitals), as well as by the absence of any kind of poll tax.

Soviet legislation establishes the organizational and legal forms for citizens’ participation in elections and for control of the conduct of the elections by the public. It also establishes criminal responsibility for persons who use force, deception, threats, or bribery to prevent Soviet citizens from exercising the right to vote and be elected.

The constitutions of the majority of bourgeois states pro-claim universal suffrage. However, because of a whole system of limitations (qualifications) and various reservations and amendments provided for in the legislation itself, large numbers of voters—primarily representatives of the toiling people, soldiers, and women—are barred from participation in elections.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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