Although today’s democracies routinely profess official commitments to multiculturalism, diversity, and equality, race and ethnicity, gender, language, and property ownership remain, as in the past, powerful determinants of access to national dreams.  National and global histories have always made some women and men more equal than others but the facts of just how long it took states to grant the majority of their populations the right to vote, together with equal opportunity of every kind, are still startling and elusive.

In Canada—global champion of multiculturalism—Chinese, Japanese, Hindus, indigenous persons and other racialized minorities faced formal restrictions on voting well into the 20th century. Prisoners and residents of Washington DC continue to demand the  enfranchisement that was officially granted to all American citizens in 1965. Not until 1994 was universal suffrage granted in South Africa. Informal barriers also survive. Citizens with demanding and largely unpaid caregiving responsibilities, disproportionately women in all societies, for example, rarely receive even the paltry supports for voting available to waged workers, some of whom have statutory time off while polls are open. Few nations escape such chequered histories or think much about them.

As the articles in this section make clear, struggles  have been complex, and the meaning of suffrage itself has changed rapidly over time.  They reveal the 19th century as a time of significant ferment in the rights and meaning of citizenship, as laws and practices within and among countries shifted.  While many imagine that by the 20th century modern democracy was in full swing in fortunate parts of the world, the articles here establish that in many states, racialized, feminized, and class-based constraints proved hardy survivors.   Key questions addressed by this section include:

  • How have intersecting relations of gender, race, sexuality, and property-ownership historically shaped liberal democratic governance and institutions and how do these layered social relations continue to shape democratic rights and freedom in civic society today?
  • What tolls has disenfranchisement taken on minority communities?
  • How is contemporary suffrage shaped by immigration, labor and social policy, as well as ongoing disenfranchisement regimes?