THEORIES OF THE NATURE OF SUFFRAGE :
One important role player in democracy is the electorate. Electorate consists of the voting public. This voting right is also referred to as suffrage or franchise. Voting is a political right given to any eligible citizen. Who is eligible to vote? There are several theories on the voting right.
The most important theories on suffrage are,
1. The Natural Right Theory
2. The Legal Theory
3. The Ethical Theory
4. The Tribal Theory and
5. The Feudal Theory
1.The Natural Right Theory :
This theory claims that the right to vote is a natural and inherited right to every citizen. The state was created by the people deliberately and hence all the people have a natural right to take part in the affairs of the government.
2. The Legal Theory :
According to this theory, suffrage is not a natural right, but a political right granted by the law of the state. Voting is a public function.
3. The Ethical Theory:
The Ethical Theory considers the right to vote as a means of self expression of the individual in political affairs. Suffrage provides for the development of the human personality.
4. The Tribal Theory :
In early Greek and Roman States, suffrage was extended only to the citizen class. Only people who were accorded citizenship status could vote. Now a day's citizenship is essential for voting. This practice is based on the Tribal Theory.
5. The Feudal Theory :
The feudal theory claims that the right to vote depends on a particulars social status. The simplest form of social status was ownership of land. Even now in some states emphasis is on property qualification. This is a legacy of the feudal theory.
'Of the above mentioned theories, the feudal theory and the legal theory limit the right to vote by imposing some restrictions. However, the modern government today tends to give widest possible extension of suffrage.
However many political thinkers consider suffrage as an office or function which is conferred by the state upon only such persons as are believed to be most capable of exercising it for the public good, and not a natural right which belongs without distinction to all citizens of the state' - (Garner). If voting is considered as a right or privilege the individual voter has an option either to exercise his right or not. In countries, like Belgium, Rumania, Argentina, voting is made compulsory. That is, all eligible citizens must exercise their vote. But this kind of compulsion is very much against democracy.