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Universal suffrage

The concept of universal suffrage, also known as general suffrage or common suffrage, consists of the right to vote of all except a small number of adult citizens (or subjects). As minors are generally excluded, the concept is frequently described as universal adult suffrage. Many countries make an exception for small numbers of adults that are considered mentally incapable of voting. Other countries also exclude people convicted of serious crimes or people in jail, but this is considered a violation of a basic human right in an increasing number of countries. In some countries, including the United States, it is very difficult and expensive for convicted criminals to regain this right even after having served their jail sentence. In any case, where universal suffrage exists, the right to vote is not restricted by race, sex, belief, wealth, or social status.

Although it took or is taking a long time in many countries before women got or get the right to run for office even after getting the right to vote, there are still no commonly used clear terms to differentiate between these different rights. It is therefore usually best to avoid the little known and ambivalent terms used to make this distinction and to instead clearly say whether one is referring to only men or also women having only the right to vote or also the right to run for office. It is important to be careful in reading and using the term universal suffrage because it historically referred to only all adult males and even today is often used to refer to historical or contemporary situations in which women had or have the right to vote but not to run for office.

The term active suffrage is sometimes used for the right to vote, passive suffrage for the right to run for office, and full suffrage for the combination of both. (The equivalent terms are more common in other languages than in English.) The equivalent term when talking about both genders would then be universal full suffrage, or full universal suffrage.

In the United States, the term "suffrage" is often associated specifically with Women's Suffrage, as the term became widely known during the American Suffragettes movement, which began in the mid-nineteenth century and ultimately peaked during the first three decades of the twentieth century. This radical and explosive movement eventually culminated in the year 1920, when the United States ruled that women were to be given the same rights to vote and run for office as men by passing the Ninteenth Amendment.