What is the origin of electorate?
Electorate is composed of two elements derived from Latin. The first is elector “voter,” from Late Latin ēlēctor “chooser,” formed from ēligere “to pluck out, pick out, choose” and –tor, a suffix forming agent nouns. The second is –ate, a suffix denoting “office (or person performing it), function, institution, collective body, etc.,” as in professorate (the office of professor, group of professors); –ate is ultimately from Latin –ātus, as seen in augurātus “the office of augur” or senātus “senate (of Rome).” Electorate is first attested in English the late 17th century.
At that time, the elector in electorate referred to a very different voter than the word evokes today: an Elector (German Kurfürst) was a German prince of the Holy Roman Empire who could cast a vote in the election of the German king (Emperor). Elector was a powerful office until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806; the territory the electors oversaw was their electorate, e.g., Elector of Cologne. It wasn’t the late 19th century that electorate was recorded as “body of persons entitled to vote in an election”—a group that was dramatically, and finally, expanded to include women in the U.S. with the certification on August 26, 1920, of the Nineteenth Amendment, which enshrined women’s suffrage in the Constitution.