The aim of this dissertation is to describe and analyse the voting restrictions of the Swedish franchise reform of 1909. These restrictions required that the voter should be a male of good repute, who had paid his national and local taxes for three years before the election year, had done his military service, had not been declared incapacitated or bankrupt nor owed society any poor relief. In practice, this meant that some 20% of the adult male population were excluded from voting.
This study explores both the ideological beliefs and political strategies behind these restrictions, and how the system worked in practice at the national and local levels. Since earlier literature has paid scant attention to the voter’s status as a citizen, this dissertation uses citizenship as one of its analytical tools.
Although often described as universal suffrage for men, the 1909 Electoral Law was thus less radical than is usually assumed. As you had to have fulfilled certain obligations as a citizen in order to vote, it is hard to say that voting was a right. A central role in formulating these new conditions was played by the Riksdag’s moderate Conservative group. The reform therefore had the potential to preserve the political influence of the Right in the age of mass democracy, not least as the question of the unrestricted franchise for men and women could be deferred. However, the 1909 Electoral Law was not only aimed at reducing the political influence of the lower classes, but the proponents of the system also wanted to educate the citizens ideologically by constructing an image of the ideal citizen as a self-supporting male, who fulfilled his obligations to society.
The National Women’s Franchise Association, whose campaign demanded suffrage for women on the same conditions as men, therefore had to relate to a political discourse dominated by (male) civic virtues and qualifications, and argue that women made a major contribution by fulfilling their special obligations to society. Also, the tax payment and poor relief voting restrictions in the 1909 franchise reform had an impact on the way proposals for women’s right to vote were formulated.
The Social Democrats, whose electorate was heavily affected by the taxpaying qualification, in their programme for a constitutional reform demanded that this particular restriction should be abolished. To limit the number of party voters excluded from the polls, Social Democratic newspapers and election offices tried to mobilise disenfranchised workers to appeal the electoral register and get back on it. Those activities, which have been largely neglected in earlier research on the history of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, came to constitute an important element in the party’s election campaigns during the 1910s.
In Sweden, the poor relief voting restriction (the pauper exclusion) was applied in a much more general way than in other countries, disqualifying recipients of very small or provisional amounts that had not been repaid as well as family providers who had received poor relief because of family members. The rules also proved very difficult to put into practice. The Social Democrats and many Liberals, but also leading members of the Swedish Poor Relief Association wanted to reform the law so that only those permanently supported by poor relief should lose their right to vote.
Unlike the Social Democrats, the Liberals supported the taxpaying qualification as a necessary token of orderliness. However, they wanted the conscientious poor taxpayers to be distinguished from those who were neglectful and dilatory. As the Liberal-Social Democratic coalition government, which came to power in 1917, found out, this proved impossible. Instead, the taxpaying qualification was abolished in connection with the 1918-1921 constitutional reform, which also gave women the vote and limited the poor relief voting restriction to those permanently receiving support.
In sum, the 1909 franchise reform did not constitute a sharp divide between the old system of income and property qualifications and twentieth century democracy. There was a clear continuity with the former system, in which you earned the right to vote by fulfilling your obligations. The 1909 reform did not lead to universal suffrage for men. Instead, it should be regarded as an intermediate stage in the development towards universal suffrage. Property and income qualifications for voters were abolished, but new qualifications and new mechanisms for exclusion were introduced instead. In this respect, Sweden was not unique. Before adopting universal suffrage, many countries combined universal suffrage with various voting restrictions. In Sweden, however, the right to vote came with an unusually large number of conditions.
Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, 2005. , 246 p.
voting restrictions, disfranchisement, universal suffrage, Swedish political history 1900-1920, democratization, citizenship, women’s suffrage, gender, political mobilization.
2005-10-28, hörsal 3, hus B, Universitetsvägen 10, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Andersson, Lars I.