Electoral Registers: who could vote and when

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This is a backup copy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service's "Off the Record" wiki from 2015. The live went offline in 2016 and is currently unavailable. Editing and account creation are disabled.

Below is a list of changes to voting legislation and what this meant for the people of West Yorkshire and the former county of the West Riding. On the introduction of electoral registers in 1832 the franchise (right to vote) was generally limited to men of considerable wealth and status. The franchise was gradually extended from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century when from 1928 all men and women over the age of 21 finally had the right to vote irrespective of their gender, status or personal wealth. This is known as Universal Suffrage.

Some sections of society have always been excluded from voting. These include:

  • aliens
  • lunatics (voluntary patients and the lucid could vote)
  • felons
  • minors
  • peers (local and European Union peers can vote)

Other groups have been excluded at certain times:

  • pre 1887 serving policemen
  • pre 1918 postmasters
  • 1918-1923 conscientious objectors

Commonwealth citizens residing in Britain are eligible to vote in UK elections. EU citizens in Britain can be registered for EU parliamentary and local elections but cannot vote in UK parliamentary elections.

Qualifications listed for the right to vote in electoral registers pre 1939:

  • Residence (R)
  • Business premises (B.P)
  • Occupation (O)
  • Occupation of husband (H.O)
  • Naval or military voter (N.M)

Date Changes to the franchise Changes affecting West Riding/West Yorkshire
pre 1832 Parliamentary representation:
  • County voters were restricted to freeholders of property worth at least 40 shillings per year (this was a great deal of money and meant the vote was limited to very few men)
  • returns of voters giving their names, residence and occupation were compiled into Poll Books, see here for more information
Initially represented by 2 MPs (known as Knights of the Shire), Yorkshire's representation in parliament was increased to 4 MPs in 1822. See here for a list of Yorkshire MPs pre 1832.
1832 Representation of the People Act 1832, otherwise known as Great Reform Act:
  • the introduction of electoral registers
  • Borough voters: Borough qualification standardised for first time. Vote extended to those householders in the occupation of property worth more than £10 per year (either as owner or tenant), or lodgers in houses if value of property divided by number of lodgers exceeded £10 per year - all had to be in occupation for a minimum of 12 months
  • County voters: freeholders of land worth 40 shillings as before, also householders of property worth £10 per year (either as freeholders, copyholders or long leaseholders (60 years) and £50 tenants or short lease holders (20 years), joint tenants whose interests amounted to 40 shillings etc). The £10 property qualification hereafter became the basic qualification.

This extension to the franchise was modest; it meant about 5% of the population was now able to vote. Only men of considerable means were enfranchised splitting the alliance between the middle and working classes; this gave rise to the Chartist movement that demanded universal suffrage for men, see here for more info. The language used in the Bill also explicitly prevented women from voting which led to the start of the long campaign for women's suffrage

Yorkshire was divided into the 3 Ridings; the East, North and West Ridings. This was the first time the West Riding was classed as a parliamentary constituency/division. A brief history of the West Riding as a constituency can be found here. See here for a list of West Riding County electoral registers held by WYAS: Wakefield.

The following cities were established as parliamentary boroughs:

  • Bradford
  • Halifax
  • Huddersfield
  • Leeds
  • Sheffield
  • Wakefield

In addition to the already established boroughs of:

  • Knaresborough
  • Pontefract
  • Ripon

As parliamentary boroughs these cities were not included in the West Riding county electoral registers. Instead electors from these boroughs can be found in the Burgess Rolls compiled by each borough, see Electoral Registers held at other organisations for more info.

1862 West Riding county division divided into 2 seats:

Reform Act 1867:

  • Borough voters: franchise extended to all householders subject to one year residential qualification and the payment of rates, as well as lodgers of property worth more than £10 per year after 12 months residency
  • County voters: extended franchise to all those occupying land worth £12 per year or owning land worth £5 per year

Although the right to vote was still linked to a property qualification this generally meant small land owners, tenant farmers, shopkeepers, skilled workers and craftsmen etc were now enfranchised. The extended qualifications saw parts of the working class able to vote for the first time, largely owing the campaigns orchestrated by the Chartist movement. The electorate almost doubled from 1 million to 2 million men; women were still prevented from voting

Boundary Review 1867. West Riding county division split into 3 constituencies:

  • Dewsbury became a parliamentary borough; therefore electors from this borough no longer appear in West Riding county electoral registers
1869 Municipal Corporations (Elections) Act 1869:
  • extended the vote to female rate-payers for local elections only
  • this coupled with the Married Women's Property Act 1870 meant some women could now inherit property and were the legal owners of their earnings
1884 Reform Act 1884:
  • County and Borough voters: first time the qualification for both was the same

This Act extended the householder and lodger franchise from boroughs to counties and created an occupation qualification for those with property worth £10 per year. This resulted in lots more people being able to vote in county elections, including rural labourers etc

1885 - Redistribution of Seats and Boundary Review 1885. West Riding county registers no longer compiled on a county basis, instead each new constituency had its own registers from 1886. New constituencies created included:
1887 Serving policemen able to vote for first time -
1918 Representation of the People Act 1918:
  • Extended the vote to all men over 21 who had resided in a constituency for more than 6 months, therefore enfranchising the majority of men regardless of their occupation, wealth or status
  • Extended the vote to women over 30 who were householders or married to a householder, including some women who qualified to vote in national elections
  • Postmasters, election agents, collectors of government revenue, those in receipt of public relief etc allowed to vote for first time

This Act had by far the greatest effect on the right to vote. The electorate trebled to 21 million, enabling a large percentage of the adult population to vote for the first time

World War I:

  • Absent voters lists compiled for first time to record men serving away in military
  • Biannual registers compiled in the Spring and Autumn of each year up to 1926

Boundary Review 1918, parliamentary counties were realigned with administrative counties that had been established in 1889.

The following constituencies were abolished:

The following constituencies were created:

1923 Conscientious objectors excluded from voting after WWI were allowed to vote again -
  • The biannual compilation of electoral registers ended and the Spring registers were abolished. This meant there was a single electoral register produced each year.
  • The residential qualification was reduced to 3 months
1928 Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928:
  • The voting age of women was reduced to 21, equal to that of men.

Now the right to vote did not depend on gender, occupation, class or property. This is known as Universal Suffrage

1944 Partial Boundary review of Divisions 100,000 or more
1948 Representation of People Act 1948:
  • Abolished plural voting, the business and university franchise were withdrawn. Also the 12 university constituencies were abolished
  • Established 1 person, 1 vote system
  • Residential qualification became only franchise and period of residency in a constituency was made redundant with introduction of the qualification date
Boundary Review 1948 made changes to several West Riding constituencies.

Constituencies abolished:

  • Doncaster, Keighley and Pontefract were made boroughs and removed from the West Riding parliamentary system. Therefore the electoral registers for these places do not appear in the series of West Riding county registers held at WYAS: Wakefield from 1949 to 1964. These boroughs were later taken back into the West Riding county following reorganisation in 1965.

Constituencies created:

1950 'Y' voters were added to electoral registers; these were people who would come of age (at this point 21) within the year and thus be eligible to vote -
1965 - Following a reorganisation separate boroughs electoral registers were abolished and the West Riding was made a single parliamentary system. The registers for the following boroughs were transferred into the West Riding County series between 1965 and 1974 and are available to view at WYAS: Wakefield:
1969 Representation of the People Act 1969:
  • Reduced minimum voting age from 21 to 18 (changes do not appear until the 1971 registers)
1974 - Local Government Act 1972 created the metropolitan county of South Yorkshire which formally existed from 1 April 1974. Constituencies for this area no longer appeared in West Yorkshire county series, see here for information about electoral registers held at other repositories
  • First time amendments to current electoral register could be made after the qualification date. Amendments include adding people, changing details, correcting errors etc
  • Oversees voters were now eligible to vote after they had lived in the UK for 5 years
Boundary Review 1983 brought changes to several West Yorkshire constituencies:

Constituencies abolished/removed from West Yorkshire:

Constituencies created:

1985 - This is the last year electoral registers were compiled on a West Yorkshire county basis. From 1986 the only registers held by WYAS: Wakefield are for constituencies that are part of the Wakefield Metropolitan District; Hemsworth, Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford and Wakefield Divisions
  • Overseas voters eligibility to vote was extended to include those with a minimum 2 years residency
2003 - Representation of the People (England & Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2002:
  • Format changed to include both an edited and a full electoral register for each year
  • Constituencies of Hemsworth, Normanton, and Pontefract & Castleford now all found in Wakefield & District registers