Prussian three-class franchise

The Prussian three-class franchise (German: Preußisches Dreiklassenwahlrecht) was an indirect electoral system used from 1848 until 1918 in the Kingdom of Prussia and for shorter periods in other German states. Voters were grouped by district into three classes, with the total tax payments in each class equal. Those who paid the most in taxes formed the first class, followed by the next highest in the second, with those who paid the least in the third. Voters in each class separately elected one third of the electors who in turn voted for the representatives. Voting was not secret. The franchise was a form of apportionment by economic class rather than geographic area or population.

Prussian House of Representatives in 1900.

Members of the Prussian House of Representatives were elected according to the three-class electoral law, as were the city councils of Prussian cities and towns in accordance with the Prussian Municipal Code.[1] After decades of controversy and failed attempts at reform, which for many caused the Prussian three-class franchise to become a hated symbol of Prussia's democratic shortfalls, it was finally abolished early in the German Revolution of 1918–1919 that broke out following Germany's defeat in World War I.

Even though there were considerable differences between districts in the tax levels at which the cutoffs between classes were made, the system tended to favor conservatives and rural areas over left liberals and cities. Voter turnout was also significantly lower under three-class voting than it was in elections for the German Reichstag, which did not use the system. Despite the diminished weight of many votes, the three class franchise did have the advantage of allowing all males to vote, which many contemporaneous electoral systems in other German states and European countries did not do.

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