Formally this issue is closed. It was decided by the great struggles over the suffrage over 100 years ago: since the 1920s we have had a system of universal suffrage, so all adults should be so entitled. But as we shall see several times in the chapter entitlement remains a difficult issue. This is partly because the idea of an adult is changing. For much of the twentieth century it meant someone aged 21 or over. That was reduced to 18 in 1969. There is an active lobby to reduce it to 16 for UK general elections, and the qualifying age in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum was indeed 16. Moreover, these rules relate only to entitlement to register to vote. In practice, as we shall see also in the chapter, millions who are formally entitled to register are not on the register; and some of those on the register find it difficult to exercise their entitlement on election day. We saw in Chapter 1 that Athenian democracy actually involved excluding from entitlement to participate more than half the population: slaves and women were disfranchised. The exclusions are not so dramatic in Britain, but they are nevertheless significant. What is more, the exclusions are not random: the young and the poor are disproportionately excluded. The Electoral Commission has struggled since its foundation to convert the formality of universal suffrage into a reality.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
- How elections are decided
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number
- Chapter number