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Prior to 1832 the ability to vote had developed differently in different constituency types. Constituencies were usually counties or boroughs, so areas which weren't boroughs had minimal or no representation irrespective of their population, which might have grown markedly over time. Some places, most famously Old Sarum, returned MPs despite having no residents. Some powerful individuals controlled the election in several boroughs. Eligibility to vote varied widely between those constituencies in which voting was held. For county seats it was often based on the '40 shilling freehold' or holding freehold land worth 40 shillings in a county entitled the holder to a vote in that county. Owning property in more than one place gave entitlement to vote in each place.

The Representation of the People Act 1832 (2&3 Wm IV c 45) sought to 'take effectual Measures for correcting divers Abuses that have long prevailed in the Choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament'. Electoral Reform was a major issue in the 1830 General Election. It led to the abolition of borough seats with small franchises,
reduction in the number of MPs returned from remaining borough seats from 2 to 1
  • creation of seats distributed more evenly across the English counties and including larger towns.
  • extension of the franchise in counties to copyholders worth £10 and holders of long term leases on land worth £10. This would have a big effect in Rossendale where most land was copyhold. For borough constituencies (which Rossendale was not), men living in properties worth over £10 per year were enfranchised.
  • Introduced voter registration, administered by the overseers of the poor.

It was followed in 1867 by the Representation of the People Act 1867 (30&31 Vict c102) which continued the reforms of the previous Act. Locally that led to the establishment of Burnley as a Parliamentary Borough and its area covered Rossendale in the early stages. The changes also in effect led to the enfranchisement of all male heads of household.

Next came the Representation of the People Act 1884 (48&49 Vict c3). This led to the establishment of one-member constituencies with reduction in the return from the remaining two-member constituencies. It also standardised the franchise between borough and county seats on adult men paying £10/year rent or holding land worth £10. This covered 66% of men in England. Acquiring multiple votes by sub-dividing a property was outlawed - this did not affect Springhill as Springhill House was not sub-divided until after 1896.

After WWI it was realised that about 33% of adult males were ineligible to vote despite their war service. The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave all men over 21 the vote in the constituency in which they were resident. The rules for 19-21 year olds who had turned 19 during service in WWI were confusing and were clarified in a subsequent Act in 1920. Over time that would cease to be a problem as they turned 21 anyway.

Women were entitled to vote under this act if they were either a member or spouse of a member of the Local Government Register, owned property or were graduates of a University which returned MPs. Universal female suffrage was introduced in the Representation of the People Act 1928 for females over 21.

The voting age was further lowered to 18 in 1969, effective from 1970. Further discussions continue about lowering it to 16. We will see.

This only applies to Parliamentary elections. Local Government franchise is different. Of course.