franchise, in government, a right specifically conferred on a group or individual by a government, especially the privilege conferred by a municipality on a corporation of operating public utilities, such as electricity, telephone, and bus services. Franchises may not be revoked without the consent of the grantee unless so stipulated in the contract. They may, however, be forfeited by the grantee's violation of terms, and the government may take back granted rights by eminent domain proceedings with tender of just compensation. Franchise provisions usually include tenure; compensation to the grantor; the services, rates, and extensions; labor and strike regulations; capitalization; and reversion to the grantor.
The term franchise also refers to a type of business in which a group or individual receives a license from a corporation to conduct a commercial enterprise. Corporate franchises enable a franchisee to market a well-known product or service in return for an initial fee and a percentage of gross receipts. The franchiser usually provides assistance with merchandising and advertising. Major franchise networks, which have grown rapidly in the United States since the 1960s, include fast-food restaurants, gasoline stations, motels, automobile dealerships, and real-estate agencies, and the system has expanded into many other fields.
In politics, the franchise is the right conferred on an individual to vote. In the United States, the states, with some restrictions by the U.S. Constitution, govern the qualifications of voters. By the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, states were forbidden to deny suffrage to male residents over 21 years of age "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The Nineteenth Amendment conferred suffrage upon women, and the Twenty-sixth Amendment lowered the voting age to 18. See voting.
See C. Williamson, American Suffrage from Property to Democracy, 1760–1860 (1960, repr. 1968); C. L. Vaughn, Franchising (1974).