The Franchise – Concept and Evolution

The word “franchise” has its origin in the French and German word “franc” and “frank” words which, respectively mean, “Free”. Franchise as used by the French means “privileged liberty”. To the wider world through the evolutionary process it has the meaning the “right to vote”.

1928 – Women from 21 years old granted the franchiseBy 1928 women from 21 years old were given the franchise; whereas the change vastly increased the number of persons eligible to vote the principle of “one-man–one-vote” only came into effect in 1948

In the English –speaking world conditions were also attached to the franchise. Great Britain from whom Trinidad and Tobago inherited its system started the franchise in 1832. All registrations during the 19th century concerned men, while women had to wait until 1918- the pre-condition being that they should be 30 years and over based on residence, the occupation of land and or business premises, or the qualifications of their husbands in order to vote at local government elections. By 1928 women from 21 years old were given the franchise; whereas the change vastly increased the number of persons eligible to vote the principle of “one-man –one-vote-“only came into effect in 1948. The process gained further momentum in April 1959 when Britain reduced the age qualification from 21 to 18 years.

In Trinidad and Tobago however, attainment of the franchise was marked by struggle. The process commenced with a petition for a representative assembly and grew to the wider demand for “universal adult suffrage” The call for universal adult suffrage together with internal self government was largely the basis of for the social unrest which occurred in Trinidad in 1937 known as the Butler Riots. In 1945, the British Parliament granted universal adult suffrage to Trinidad and Tobago limiting the grant of the franchise to persons 21 years and over. However, the 1976 Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago extended the franchise to persons attaining the age of 18 years.

The first elections to the then Legislative Council in Trinidad and Tobago under universal adult suffrage were held in 1946.Since then the country continued its quest to enhance and refine the machinery to enable qualified voters to freely and effectively exercise their franchise within the legal parameters of the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act from which the Elections and Boundaries derives its authority.

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