Inclusive Democracies: New Challenges in the Ethics of Voting and Democratic Participation


Prof. Annabelle Lever  (Sciences Po Paris, CEVIPOF):

Dr. Andreas Brøgger Albertsen  (Aarhus University, Department of Political Science):

Dr. Chiara Destri  (Sciences Po Paris, CEVIPOF):

Dr. Attila Mráz (Sciences Po Paris, CEVIPOF; ELTE Eötvös Loránd University):

*All times are British Summer Time (BST)

September 7 (Tuesday)

Session 1: Grounds of the right to vote

8:30 – 11:10

“Relational Democracy and the Grounding of Electoral Rights” – Alexandru Volacu (University of Bucharest)

“The Voting Rights of Elderly People” – Andreas Bengtson (Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen)  and Andreas Brøgger Albertsen (Department of Political Science, Aarhus University)

“Political Equality and Voters’ Ethical Dilemmas” – Attila Mráz (Sciences Po Paris, CEVIPOF; ELTE Eötvös Loránd University)


Session 2: Reasons and duties, moral and legal, to vote

12:30 – 15:10

“Why should I vote? A relational account” – Zsolt Kapelner (Central European University)

“Does One Have A Moral Obligation to Vote Strategically?” – Kesavan Thanagopal (Simon Fraser University)

“Three moral duties of voters” – Pierre-Étienne Vandamme (Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium)


September 8 (Wednesday)

Session 3: General challenges in the ethics of voting: publicity, compulsion, elections

8:30 – 11:10

“Democracy Without Elections” – Nick Munn (The University of Waikato, New Zealand)

“Democracy in Selection” – Annabelle Lever (Sciences Po Paris, CEVIPOF)

“Against the Secret Ballot” – Jonathan Seglow (Royal Holloway, University of London)


Session 4: Epistemic aspect of voting

12:30 – 15:10

“On the Citizens’ Right to Receive Democratically Relevant Information” – Rubén Marciel (Pompeu Fabra University)

“The Vices of Bad Voting” – Sofia Wiman (Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg)

“Informed Voting as Due Diligence” – Chiara Destri (Sciences Po Paris, CEVIPOF)


September 9 (Thursday)

Session 5: Institutional aspects I

8:30 – 11:10

“Nudge and electoral systems: A reform proposal to better represent the real intentions of voters” – Simone Marsilio (Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Milan)

“Driving it Home: Why Busing Voters to the Polling Station is Paying People to Vote and how this Leads to a Dilemma for the United States Legal System” – Jørn Sønderholm and Jakob Thrane Mainz (Centre for Philosophy and Public Policy, Aalborg University)

“Measuring deliberative representativeness: Taking plural identities into account” – Erica Yu (Erasmus University Rotterdam)


Session 6: Institutional aspects II

12:30  – 15:10

“Should I be obliged to vote? Two arguments against compulsory voting” – Dorina Patrunsu (University of Bucharest, Faculty of Philosophy, Practical Philosophy and History of Philosophy Department)

“The ungovernability objection against liquid democracy” – Chiara Valsangiacomo (University of Zurich, Department of Political Science)

“Constituency Equality” – Colin Kielty (University of Richmond)


A distinctive literature on the ethics of voting has emerged in the past decades, discussing issues such as compulsory voting, abstention and the secrecy of ballots (Brennan and Pettit 1990, Hill 2014; Lever 2010, Birch 2009, Brennan 2014, Lever and Volacu 2019, Poama & Theuns 2019, Umbers 2020, Volacu 2020). While this body of work is concerned with voter exclusion and marginalization, it tends to offer local institutional solutions that are insensitive to citizens’ ethical perspective qua voters. By contrast, this workshop aims to offer a voter-centred perspective on electoral institutions and, in so doing, to highlight ways in which institutional democratic theory and the ethics of voting can draw on each other to design inclusive and egalitarian elections.

The ethics of voting is shaped by the institutions within which elections take place. These determine who is included or excluded from electoral participation, what reasons people have to participate, if included,(cf. Beerbohm 2012, Jakob 2015, Saunders 2012)and what ethical dilemmas they face- including whether or not they should vote, or vote sincerely, rather than tactically, (cf.Geisz 2006, Mark et al. 1994, Miller 2010, Schwartz 2010, Wolff 1994). For example, geographic constituencies with single-member districts may decrease permanent minorities’ opportunities to elect candidates of their choosing (Guinier 1994, Häggrot 2018, Rehfeld 2005), and some institutional choices may make it less burdensome than others for young people to participate in democratic decision-making (Beckman 2009, Chan & Clayton 2006, Mráz 2020, Volacu 2021). Thus, the ethics of voting can benefit from a closer look at the institutional contexts in which voters’ moral challenges arise.

However, if the point of democratic elections is for citizens to help determine the rules by which they live, this neglect of the voters’ perspective on electoral rules and their consequences is hard to justify. Thus, attention to voters’ specific ethical challenges can also inform institutional democratic theory. While the political theory of democratic institutions has often provided guidance on the choice of electoral institutions, it has generally done so based on highly abstract values and ideals, and by adopting either a god’s eye perspective on electoral institutions, or that of politicians (Beitz 1989, Thompson 2002, Christiano 2008, Wilson 2019). This method has its limits, as it often cannot normatively guide fine-grained institutional choices – such as between presidential v. parliamentary systems, or proportional v. majoritarian electoral systems – within the set of permissible democratic arrangements. Institutionally oriented democratic theory can also benefit from a closer look at the typical moral challenges that the ethics of voting attempts to make sense of (Lever and Volacu 2019) and from a bottom-up kind of evaluation (cf. Ottonelli 2018).

This panel is therefore concerned with the ways that the ethical challenges that elections pose for voters can shape our evaluation of democratic institutions and the choice, for example, amongst different forms of proportional representation, different ways of drawing constituency boundaries, different ways of specifying the rights and duties of parties in democratic elections. In short, adopting what we call ‘a voter-centred perspective on elections’ will improve our understanding of familiar electoral phenomena, such as abstention, but enable us also to examine the consequences for voters’ as democratic agents of new technology — such as social media and voting apps. New social media impacts citizens’ pre-electoral deliberations (Halpern and Gibbs, 2013; Sunstein 2017) in ways that they may experience as manipulative, exploitative, coercive and deceptive. On the other hand, voting advice applications provide voters with innovative sources of information that they may find informative, reassuring and empowering (Garzia and Marshall, 2016; 2019; Fossen and Anderson 2014; Albertsen 2020). Hence, evaluating the use and regulation of new social media from a voter’s perspective seems likely to illuminate ethically significant differences amongst them for voter freedom, equality and rational decision-making, as well as for the legitimacy of elections taken as a whole.

The workshop welcomes all papers engaging with the ethics of voting and its connections to inclusive, egalitarian electoral design.

Possible questions include the following.

  • What particular ethical challenges do voters face in different electoral systems and democratic institutional contexts — e.g., presidential vs. parliamentary, proportional v. majoritarian? Does the ethics of voting offer reasons to prefer some electoral rules and institutions rather than others and, if so, on what grounds should we base our judgements? (For example, is it a mark against a particular electoral system that it encourages strategic, rather than sincere voting for some, even all, of the electorate?)
  • What special ethical dilemmas do marginalised voters and members of persistent minorities face in voting? How could these be attenuated?
  • How do voter suppression, stigmatization and techniques of exclusion bear on voters’ ethical outlook, individually or collectively?
  • How should we evaluate electoral abstention? What institutional solutions reduce objectionable forms of abstention and empower valuable ones (if they exist)?
  • What institutional arrangements can help reduce voter alienation and political disaffection in democratic societies?
  • Are there other forms of electoral participation, (e.g. lotteries, citizens’ councils and juries; the use of open primaries to select party candidates) that would promote democratic inclusion and equality?
  • What are parties’ electoral responsibilities concerning the candidates and platforms they campaign for? Should there be any institutional constraint on the kind of candidates and platforms they offer?
  • Do protections of privacy have a role in electoral politics and, if so, what forms of privacy are consistent with democratic equality, inclusion and accountability? Should voter choice always be secret, and, if so, should we forbid mail-in voting as a threat to the secret ballot? What about the raising and use of money for parties and candidates? Should the choice of party candidates be transparent to all? In short, how should the public/private distinction shape electoral politics in democracies?
  • How should technology be leveraged in the democratic process, in and outside of elections, as a means to fight democratic exclusion?

Please submit a 500 word long abstract of your paper prepared for blind-review by May 15th, 2021. All abstracts and inquiries about the workshop should be sent to We aim to notify prospective speakers of our decision by May 31st, 2021.

Registration for the conference opens in May, and all participants must register in order to attend.
This year’s registration fees are as follows:
Academics: £45
Graduate students, retirees, and unaffiliated attendees: £20
Non-speaker/non-presenting attendees: £15
A small number of bursaries (for graduate students only) are available. Please state in your application to our panel whether you intend to apply for a bursary.

We look forward to reading your abstracts!
This workshop forms part of the REDEM project (, supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme via under grant agreement No 870996, and of the VoiCED project, supported by the European Union’s MSCA Individual Fellowship No 836571.


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