Before the Reform Act of 1832, elections were only held in counties and certain towns (called boroughs). Many large towns such as Manchester and Sheffield did not have any Members of Parliament (MPs). Sheffield now has six MPs.
Sheffield and other towns became ‘Parliamentary Boroughs’ in 1832 and in 1843 Sheffield became a ‘municipal borough’. This meant people living there could now vote for a Town Council to manage local affairs. Since then the Council has kept lists of all the people who are entitled to vote – the lists are called ‘Electoral Registers’ (see examples from the 1881 Electoral Registers of the Endcliffe area and Scotland Street, pictured right).
In 1843 only men over 21 who owned property valued at £10 or above a year could vote. This meant that most people who lived in Sheffield did not have the right to vote and make their voices heard.
In 1843 the population of Sheffield was 112,492 but there were only 4,085 registered voters (only 3.6%).
The vote was extended in 1867 and 1884 to house-owners and occupants of rented houses worth £10 a year – providing they lived in one place for 12 months and did not receive Poor Relief.
Until 1869 no women had the right to vote, but after that date some women who were householders and were single or widowed gained the right to vote in Council elections.
Women couldn’t vote in Parliamentary elections until 1918 and only then if they were aged 30 or older.
Until 1872 there was no ‘secret ballot’, so anyone could know who an elector voted for. After 1872 all votes were cast in secret and still are today.