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Electoral registers and poll books

Key developments in voting rights

Pre-1832

Counties: From 1429 the right to vote was given to men aged 21 or over, owning freehold lands or tenements with an annual net value of 40s or more. 

Boroughs: The franchise varied widely according to local custom. It could range from extensive electorates of all male heads of households, to freemen only or to the so-called ‘rotten’ or ‘pocket’ boroughs, where only a handful of people could vote.

Norfolk boroughs which elected members to parliament were Norwich, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Thetford.

Before the 1832 Reform Act (see below), Castle Rising had the status of a parliamentary borough. It is often cited as an example of a rotten borough, due to its very small population.

1832 

Counties: The Reform Act extended the county franchise to men who owned or occupied lands and tenements worth between £2 and £5 per annum, thus including tenants for the first time.

Holders of property worth more than £10 were also given the right to vote. It has been estimated that about one in seven men were then entitled to vote.

Boroughs: Owners or tenants of buildings worth at least £10 per annum were given the vote.

However, this was provided that they had occupied the building(s) for at least 12 months prior to the registration date and had paid the appropriate poor rates and taxes. It was also necessary to live within seven miles of the borough.

1867

Counties: All male owners of real estate worth £5 or more were enfranchised with the passing of the Second Reform Act, together with those who occupied land and paid rent of £50 or more per year.

The vote was also extended to owners and tenants of lands with the rateable value of £12 or more who were paying taxes.

Boroughs: The vote was extended to all male owners and tenants of dwelling-houses under the act, as well as most occupiers paying at least £10 rent per annum.

This resulted in a large increase in urban voters.

1869

Some women received a vote in local government elections, provided they had the necessary property qualifications and paid rates.

1884

The third Reform Act was passed. The borough qualification granted in 1867 was now extended to the counties.

Therefore freeholders of inherited land worth 40s, freeholders of any land worth £5 and certain leaseholders, occupiers and lodgers were now enfranchised.

The majority of male householders over 21 were now entitled to vote, but residence in one place for 12 months was required.

It has been estimated that just over 60% of men over 21 now had the right to vote.

1918

The ‘Representation of the People’ Act was passed. All males over 21 were now eligible to vote, as were women over 30 who were householders (ie local government electors) or wives of householders.

The residential qualification period was reduced to six months.

1928

The vote was granted to women over 21.

1969

The age limit for voting was reduced to 18.