‘Right to vote’ is a common law right
Ashby v White was an eighteenth century UK case where the court held that “right to vote” is a common law right and violation of the right calls for damages.
Matthew Ashby, a cobbler, turned up to cast his vote for the British Parliament in December 1701. Ashby was turned away by William White, a constable, on the grounds that “he was no settled inhabitant of the borough, and had never contributed either to the church, or the poor.
In spite of this his candidate won the election and no harm was caused to him. But Ashby refused to take this lying down, and sued for substantial damages. The defendants contended that since Ashby had suffered no loss as his candidate had won the election, he was not liable.
His suit was successful, but the House of Commons found Ashby guilty of a breach of parliamentary privilege for having carried through his action at common law. Chief Justice Holt then upheld Ashby’s appeal, arguing that what was at issue was “a most transcendent thing, and of a high nature.”
Finally it was held that the defendant (White) by preventing the plaintiff (Ashby) from voting violated Ashby’s legal right and was entitled to damages.
Chief Justice Holt said, “Every injury imports a damage though it does not cost the party one farthing. For a damage not merely pecuniary, but an injury imports a damage, when a person is thereby hindered of his rights.”