Emperor Francis Joseph I proclaimed the February Patent, a new constitution for the empire, in February 1861, some four months after the announcement of a previous and abortive constitution, the October Diploma. The Basic Law on the Representation of the Realm, dated 26 February 1861 was annexed to the February Patent and has therefore been considered the “birth certificate” of the Austrian parliament.
Cisleithania was officially called "The kingdoms and lands represented in the Reichsrat" (German: die im Reichsrat vertretenen Königreiche und Länder). The members of the Abgeordnetenhaus were elected for a six-year term of office, but originally only by those male citizens who paid a certain amount of taxes.
Starting in 1907, voting rights became independent from the amount of taxes paid, which gave stronger representation to less well-off individuals such as workers and which diminished the power of the German-speaking bourgeosie. The right to vote was extended to all males aged 24 or older, who had resided in one place for at least one year, and the principle of "one man one vote" was implemented in furtherance of universal, direct, equal and democratic suffage. While this was perhaps an admirable advance in terms of democratic theory, the inevitable result was the splintering of the Reichsrat into numerous factions --principally geographical and ideological ones—that hamstrung its viability as an operating legislature.