Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

by the qualifications set by the separate commonwealths each for itself, with the curious result that certain classes of persons living in one commonwealth are privileged to vote and the same classes living in a different commonwealth are not privileged to vote. In our discussion of the electorate as constituted in the United States we shall have to refer at times to the conditions in the separate commonwealths, in order to make our treatment of the subject clear.

Age Limitation. Among the limitations upon the electorate the most obvious is that of age. In general, states require the attainment of the twenty-first year before bestowing the right to vote. It is obvious, of course, that this limit is an arbitrary one set for the average person; many persons are mentally qualified to vote at eighteen, many others of slow development may not really be qualified at thirty. Common sense demands that there shall be some limit applicable to all alike, and the age of twenty-one has commonly been accepted as just.

Citizenship.-A second limitation upon the suffrage is to be found in the requirement that a person, to possess that right, must be a citizen of the state in which he proposes to vote. This is obviously a reasonable requirement. It is fundamentally an instinct of self-preservation that permits only those who acknowledge allegiance to the state to have a share in its government. Persons who are aliens could not be expected to vote with a thought only to the welfare of a state in which they happen to reside but to which they acknowledge no allegiance.

In modern times, however, on account of the rapid and inexpensive means of transportation, vast numbers of people are continually migrating from one state to another for the purpose of benefiting themselves materially, so that the great states of the world have uniformly introduced methods of bestowing citizenship upon newcomers and thus admitting them to the suffrage. No individual, therefore, with a real intention to remain in a state and a desire to participate in its government,

need continue to be alien, provided he is otherwise qualified for the electorate.

This problem of the bestowal of citizenship has been especially pressing in the relatively new countries, as the United States, Canada, Australia, and the South American states, for it is to these countries that the great overflow from the old states has gone. In some cases it has been recognized that the bestowal of citizenship upon all races and peoples indiscriminately would be bad policy, would be indeed suicidal. Thus in the United States it is recognized that persons of the Mongolian race cannot mix with, and be assimilated by, the dominant Caucasian race in the country; therefore the law provides that no alien Mongolian can be admitted to citizenship. Realizing further the economic dangers in an influx of a horde of Chinese coolies whose standards of wages and living are far below those of the native citizens of this country, the United States has even gone so far as to prevent such persons from entering the country at all.

In this same connection the action of many of the southern commonwealths of the United States in making such requirements for the electorate as will include the whites and exclude the negroes, yet not contravene the fifteenth amendment, is notable. The negro problem is one peculiar to our country, and in our country is restricted to one section, the South. In many districts of the South the negroes outnumber the whites, so that a free and unrestricted suffrage would throw the control of the local government entirely into the hands of negroes. Such an event being repugnant and impossible to the whites, various special property, educational, and ancestry requirements exist, enforcement of which has resulted in the virtual disfranchisement of the negro in the South. Such procedure is justified by the unique conditions in that section and the necessity of the dominant white minority to take measures for its self-preservation. As a general principle, measures by which a minority seeks to perpetuate its control over the government cannot, of course, be too strongly condemned.

Identification.—Closely coupled with the requirement of citizenship for the enjoyment of the suffrage is some form of identification requirement. Commonly this consists in qualification by actual residence in a district or subdistrict for a specified time before voting, and by the registration of the person's name in the list of voters of that district. This requirement is also obviously reasonable. So long as exclusions from the electorate are necessary, some simple method must be devised to insure that no persons legally excluded shall vote. The requirements of residence and registration are the simplest method possible. The length of residence varies much in different states. In some of the commonwealths of the United States it is only one month, in one commonwealth it is two years, the long period being defended by the argument that only by such residence can the citizen become sufficiently familiar with local conditions to exercise the suffrage with good judgment.

Mental and Moral Requirements. So far as mental and moral requirements are concerned a citizen is qualified in most states who can read and write, is not a lunatic, has never been convicted of any one of certain classes of high crimes, and is not in jail or prison at the time of an election. The mere recitation of the above conditions shows how far the modern democratic movement has proceeded.

Sex Restrictions.-One of the most important restrictions laid upon the electorate, and one much under discussion at the present day, is the sex restriction. In most great states the exercise of the suffrage is restricted to men. The reasons for this restriction are historical and traditional. In primitive society political power was coincident with military power, and was wholly in the hands of men. Early in authentic history we find women in a subordinate and dependent position relative to men, having no legal, economic, or civil rights. In an era when nations lived by warfare, the women, who were not subject to military service, sank into insignificance as a political element in society. With the approach of the modern

age, however, as ushered in by the French Revolution, the legal, economic, and civil disabilities which had been imposed upon women were gradually removed, so that women now may in most states enter into contracts, carry on business, engage in a profession, and in general compete on an equality under the law with men in various economic pursuits. Women have taken advantage of their new freedom with eagerness and intelligence. The women workers in modern states are an asset of ever-increasing importance to the prosperity of the country. With their economic and legal equality has come the demand for political equality, for admission to the electorate on the same basis as men.

The arguments for woman suffrage are strong and have been forcibly presented by a number of able thinkers in modern times. The growth of modern democracy is responsible for the development of the idea of "one citizen, one vote.” Thus women have been led to claim the ballot because they are citizens equally with men. Again, the property of women is taxed without regard to sex; whereupon the cry of "taxation without representation” is raised. The injustice of man-made government deciding the laws for women is strongly emphasized; the women assert that their rights would be better protected had they a right to participate in the government. The use of sex as one of the restrictions upon the electorate puts the women in the same class with idiots and criminals, the women argue, an unnatural grouping which is abhorrent to enlightened humanity. The women point to prominent members of their sex who in the position of rulers have performed distinguished political services, as a proof that women have political capacity.

On the other hand, the opponents of woman suffrage have their best arguments in the fundamental difference between the sexes. They assert that to woman is given the function of bearing and rearing children, of creating and maintaining the home. They argue that the suffrage would tend to destroy the purely feminine quality of the average woman, would distract

her interest and attention from the great function intrusted to her by nature, and would introduce discord into the home.

In considering this question it must be understood that universal suffrage prefaces a great revolution in political conditions in a state. Universal suffrage would in nearly all countries more than double the number of voters. The part that would be added to the present electorate would undoubtedly have much the same elements of bad and good, of ignorant and educated, as the present electorate has. The chances of ill-advised clamor would be as great as at present, with the added misfortune of seeming more unanimous. The election of unsuitable officials would not cease were women to vote: their faculties for discerning the politically good and bad are no finer than those of men. The production of hasty and injurious legislation would not wholly cease, for the political acumen of women is no greater than, and, at present at least, not so well trained as, that of men. The advantage to the state, therefore, is dubious: an enormous addition to the electorate is provided, with no corresponding benefit assured.

The theoretical arguments for the right of women to vote have had such weight that equal suffrage has made great strides in recent years. The most important successes to be noted are those in England and the United States. In England, the long agitation for woman suffrage was ended in 1918 by the inclusion in the important Representation of the People Act of a provision granting the vote to every woman over thirty years of age who is herself a local government elector or the wife of a local government elector. By decision of the government in October of the same year, women duly elected are allowed to take their seats in Parliament. It will be noted that England has placed the age limit for women's qualification for the suffrage higher than for men—thirty instead of twenty-one. This difference is the main distinction between male and female parliamentary franchise. In the United States, a proposed amendment to the federal constitution providing for woman suffrage was passed by the House of Repre

« AnteriorContinuar »