The historical evolution of the right to vote offers three observations. First, almost all groups have seen their voting rights challenged at some point in time, and almost all political movements have sought to exclude some other group from voting. Second, reforms towards suffrage extension are varied—from the direct introduction of universal (male) suffrage to a trickle down process of enfranchising a small group at a time. Third, the history of franchise extension is a history of expansions and contractions. Much of the literature on the evolution of the right to vote builds on the following question: Why would a ruling elite decide to extend the suffrage to excluded groups who have different interests in the level of redistribution and the provision of public goods? Two competing theories dominate the debate: Bottom-up or demand theories emphasizing the role of revolutionary threats, and top-down or supply theories, explaining franchise extensions as the outcome of the strategic interactions of those in power and elites in the democratic opposition. A second question addresses the choice of a particular path of franchise extension, asking what explains different strategies and, in particular, the role of their accompanying institutional reforms. In contrast to the literature on the inclusion of the lower classes, women’s suffrage has been traditionally presented as the conquest of the suffragette movement. Current research, however, departs from this exceptionalism of female suffrage and shows certain consensus in explaining women’s suffrage as a political calculus, in which men willingly extend the franchise when they expect to benefit from it. Arguments differ though in the specific mechanisms that explain the political calculus. Finally, the literature on compulsory voting addresses the estimations of its impact on turnout; whether it translates into more efficient campaigning, improved legitimacy, and better representativity; and ultimately its effects on policies.
Pedro A. G. Dos Santos and Debora Thomé
Women have been historically excluded from positions of power in Brazil. Since the dawn of republicanism in the late 19th century, the political system has been dominated by men, and two long periods of authoritarianism stunted both the development of a strong women’s movement and the entrance of women into formal politics. Nevertheless, women have always been involved in the political process, and women’s groups have fought for women’s rights since the dawn of the republic. Successful examples include the suffrage movement, women’s movements that helped the return to democracy in the 1980s, and small victories such as domestic violence laws and maintenance of the status quo in the abortion law and reproductive rights. The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century marked the slow increased presence of women in elected positions. The implementation of a gender quota law in 1996 and continued pressure by women politicians, those in the state apparatus, and women’s movements brought the issue of women’s representation to the forefront of debates about democratic development in Brazil. Although women still face strong barriers to enter the electoral arena, developments in the early 21st century such as the strengthening of the quota law show that the political space is slowly opening its doors to women.
Jennifer M. Piscopo and Kristin N. Wylie
Women, indigenous peoples, and Afro-descendant populations remain underrepresented in the national legislatures of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin America. The descriptive (or numeric) representation of marginalized groups in national legislatures matters because legislatures make policy, check the president’s authority, and communicate who has full membership in the body politic. The inclusion of women, indigenous peoples, and Afro-descendants in legislatures sends information about the overall depth and quality of the democratic regime. Most legislatures have become more representative of women, primarily due to affirmative action measures designed to raise descriptive representation. As of October 15, 2019, every Latin American country except Guatemala and Venezuela had a statutory quota law for women candidates, resulting in women holding nearly 30% of seats in the region’s legislatures. However, such gains have not come without costs, including rising violence against women candidates and elected officials. Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela also use affirmative action to incorporate indigenous peoples into the national legislature, using reserved seats. However, reserved seats typically elect lower proportions of indigenous peoples relative to their population percentage. Afro-descendants face more barriers, as they must largely win legislative elections without the benefit of affirmative action. Afro-descendants remain excluded from formal politics even in Brazil, where the majority of the population self-identifies as black or brown. Indigenous and Afro-descendant women face barriers that emerge from both their gender and their race/ethnicity.