I'm specifically asking for DIRECT bias so basically everything that isn't "One person = one vote". (So no Citizens United: That decision didn't allow 'organizations' to cast votes DIRECTLY so for this question it doesn't count. Neither voter registration)

For example:

  • Discrimination based on gender often lead to the result that women weren't allowed to vote. See Switzerland which only came around to it in 1990 (The last district of Switzerland only implemented it in 1990, others did earlier).
  • Discrimination based on race, e.g. under Apartheid.
  • Voting based on taxes payed. Which e.g. existed in the US until President Jackson, large parts of Europe (Known as Zensuswahlrecht in the German speaking parts) or Japan (3級制選挙).
  • Felony disenfranchisement
  • Additional votes based on owning a business in Australia

What are other examples in those categories or even other categories and the country that has this bias?

  • 2
    Requirement to pass a test (Stupid anti-suffrage)
    – user1873
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 0:26
  • I'm unsure on what this is asking, perhaps just because I don't understand the title. Are you asking, globally, what rules exist that discourage or ban voting among certain groups?
    – Publius
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 1:53
  • @Avi - seems that way.
    – user4012
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 2:36
  • 1
    Do you include implied and imaginary biases? For example, progressives in USA view Voder ID laws as causing a bias; whereas I view having voting be on a weekday as bias against people who work hard (if you have 1.5 hour commute and 10 hrs workday, you won't get to the polls no matter how you swing it) and people with small kids to take care of.
    – user4012
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 2:38
  • 1
    This question seems to be about republics, not democracies.
    – Jasper
    Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 4:13

5 Answers 5


You haven't mentioned one obvious example, namely that of age. A person can usually vote at the age of 18 in most Western countries, at the same time as officially becoming an adult, but voting ages of 21 or higher were common until the 1970s.

More recently, 16 year olds have been allowed to vote in some countries around the world, including tonight's Scottish referendum on independence.

The age people get to vote at is fluid and there's no specific reason why 18 (or 16, or 21) is a magic number, or that it needs to be tied to gaining other freedoms and responsibilities. You'd have to say that people below the age of voting are biased against, in all democracies, and quite directly so.

Whether it's a correct bias is another question entirely.

  • 18 does have a specific reason in many countries. It is the age that you are no longer considered a minor and become an adult.
    – user1873
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 22:30
  • 6
    Well, there's no specific reason why 18 should be the age you're no longer considered a minor. That could just as well be something else. Also, most societies have different levels of adulthood – you can be tried as an adult before 18, you pay taxes, you can volunteer for military service. There's no reason why voting must inherently be tied to the day you become independent of your parents.
    – ctolsen
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 9:55
  • 1
    As adults prove by voting on ideological grounds, voting can have little to do with informed decision making. So I don't see any reason why the voting age can't be lowered to, say, five years old. Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 0:47
  • 1
    @ctolsen Interestingly, there used to be many such notions of adulthood but, in continental Europe at least, they seem to be all converging to 18 years for everything from driving, buying alcohol to marrying without the parents' consent, voting or entering contracts.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 11:18
  • @LateralFractal Why five? That's a number just as arbitrary as eighteen. A proposal I have seen which I find quite intriguing is "any age, but only on request". Old enough to fill out the request form without your parents help, old enough to vote.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 13:08

Well, the United States for one. In presidential elections, which are the biggest and most well-known of our elections that are touted as democratic, and the only national election, the Electoral College exists to prevent "One person, one vote". In United States' presidential elections, the party whose candidate wins the most votes in a given state gets to pick that state's electors, and those electors then cast ballots for president at the Electoral College, and whoever wins that election is the winner. Although there are two states that send electors in proportion to how candidates won certain districts or proportionality, not necessarily winner-take-all. I don't understand the rules completely but needless to say there have been two elections where the popular winner did not become president because of the Electoral College, and at least one occasion where an elector didn't vote for the candidate he was selected to vote for.

Basically, the Founding Fathers didn't trust the people to govern themselves, and didn't want the people electing a president that their "betters" in the political establishment didn't like.


One vote one value is not true where:

  • votes are discarded (ie: votes for losing candidates do not result in the appointment of positions)

If we accept that exercised losing votes are in fact of value:

  • electorates where not all electors exercise their vote, even if either of the following is not met (Fred didn't vote in Electorate A? Electorate B votes are worth less).
  • electorates or quotas are not identical in size
  • as a result of the above, where the number of electors is not cleanly divisible by the number of electorates
  • Your first point is basically that winner-takes-all principle as practiced in the US, which is obvious in hindsight. Your last example has a similar effect but my intent was to ask for reasons specific groups of persons are denied the right to vote (or their vote is worth less) - and I'm not sure whether rounding errors or not voting counts as being discriminated against. I did not think of how different electorate sizes make votes count more compared to other electorates so +1
    – user45891
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 19:38
  • The first is also true in Australian multiple member quota elections: the final partial quota is discarded. Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 21:57

Another and distinct answer is:

In electorates which are non-cooperative corporations.

We are used to claiming that democracy is a matter of "civil" or "political" society, however, we also have elections in economic units.

Shareholders tend to vote by share. This is not one person one value.

  • I seem to recall that intra-organizational politics is out of scope for the site (though I think it ought to be in)
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 1:23
  • I feel reasonably secure with this one as it is about "conflicting egos" over "political processes." More substantive firm, or extra-parliamentary party, or bowling club, or union politics would seem to be generally ruled out though. Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 21:55
  • 1
    I think this answer misses the point. The question explicitely asks about elections on country level, not internal elections of corporations.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 13:16

There was a lot of such democracies. The best example could be Russian elected First Duma of 1906.

The vote rights there was differentiated considerably, but not in extreme manner. If votes were not differentiated, Duma could not function because poor electorate would elect someone like Hitler, which actually happened in Germany with near election conditions. Keep in mind that only about 5% of population of Russian empire had writing and arithmetics skills. Those would not elect anything even if they were given opportunity.

With slightly non-equal rights, Duma were balanced with about 5-6 parties, and no party had the absolute majority. Relative majority had party of Constitutional Democrats, similar to Libertarian Party in US right now and similar to German's liberals of 20's.

Further read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_legislative_election,_1906

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