Inclusive Democracies: New Challenges in the Ethics of Voting and Democratic Participation
Prof. Annabelle Lever
Dr. Andreas Brøgger Albertsen
Dr. Chiara Destri
Dr. Attila Mráz
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 email@example.com. 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:
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 (www.redem-h2020.eu), 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.
Albertsen, A. (2020). ‘How do the Characteristics of Voting Advice Application Users Change Over Time? Evidence from the German Election Studies’, German Politics, doi:10.1080/09644008.2020.1830374.
Beckman, L. (2009). The Frontiers of Democracy: The Right to Vote and its Limits. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
Beerbohm, E. A. (2012). In our name : the ethics of democracy (019350617). Princeton University Press.
Beitz, C. R. (1989). Political Equality: An Essay in Democratic Theory. Princeton University Press.
Birch, S. (2009). Full participation: A Comparative Study of Compulsory Voting. Manchester University Press.
Brennan, G. & P. Pettit. (1990). ‘Unveiling the Vote’. British Journal of Political Science 20 (3), 311–33.
Brennan, J. (2014). ‘Medicine Worse than the Disease? Against Compulsory Voting’, in Brennan, J. and Hill, L. (eds.), Compulsory voting: for and against. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, pp.9–142.
Chan, T. W., & Clayton, M. (2006). ‘Should the voting age be lowered to sixteen? Normative and empirical considerations’. Political Studies, 54(3), 533–558.
Christiano, T. (2008). The Constitution of Equality: Democratic Authority and Its Limits. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Fossen, T. and J. Anderson. (2014). ‘What’s the point of voting advice applications? Competing perspectives on democracy and citizenship’, Electoral Studies, 36, 244–251. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2014.04.001.
Garzia, D. & S. Marschall. (2016). ‘Research on Voting Advice Applications: State of the Art and
Future Directions’. Policy & Internet, 8(4), 376–390.
Garzia, D. & S. Marschall. (2019). ‘Voting Advice Applications’. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.620
Geisz, S. (2006). ‘An Indirect Argument for Strategic Voting’. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 23(4), 433–444.
Guinier, Lani. (1995). Tyranny of the Majority : Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy. Reprint Edition. New York: Free Press.
Häggrot, M. C. (2018). ‘The Right to Vote and Nomadic Voter Enrolment’. Citizenship Studies, 22(7), 725-744.
Halpern, D. & J. Gibbs. (2013). ‘Social media as a catalyst for online deliberation? Exploring the affordances of Facebook and YouTube for political expression’. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(3), 1159–1168.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2012.10.008
Hill, L. (2014). ‘Compulsory Voting Defended’, in Brennan, J. and Hill, L. (eds.), Compulsory voting: for and against. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, pp. 145–271.
Jacob, D. (2015). ‘Every Vote Counts: Equality, Autonomy, and the Moral Value of Democratic Decision-Making’. Res Publica, 21(1), 61–75. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1007/s11158-014-9262-x
Lever, A. (2010). ‘Compulsory Voting: A Critical Perspective’, British Journal of Political Science, 40(4), pp. 897–915.
Lever, A. & A. Volacu. (2019). ‘Should Voting Be Compulsory? Democracy and the Ethics of Voting’, in Lever, A. and Poama, A. (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Ethics and Public Policy. Milton,
UK: Routledge, pp. 242–254.
Mark, F., Niemi, R., & Whitten, G. (1994). ‘The Two Faces of Tactical Voting’. British Journal of Political Science, 549–557.
Miller, N. R. (2010). ‘Agenda trees and sincere voting: a response to Schwartz’. Public Choice, 145(1–2), 213–221. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-009-9562-4
Mráz, A. (2020). ‘Disenfranchisement and the Capacity/Equality Puzzle: Why Disenfranchise Children but Not Adults Living with Cognitive Disabilities’. Moral Philosophy and Politics, 7(2),
Ottonelli, V. (2018). ‘Citizens’ Political Prudence as a Democratic Virtue’. Metaphilosophy49(3), 388-406.
Poama, A. & T. Theuns. (2018). ‘Making Offenders Vote: Democratic Expressivism and Compulsory Criminal Voting’. American Political Science Review 113(3), 796-809.
Rehfeld, A. (2005). The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy, and Institutional Design. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Saunders, B. (2012). ‘The Democratic Turnout “Problem”’. Political Studies, 60(2), 306–320. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9248.2011.00914.x
Schwartz, T. (2010). ‘Reply to Miller on agendas and sincerity’. Public Choice, 145(3–4), 571–573.https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-010-9703-9
Sunstein, C. R. (2017). #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Thompson, D. F. (2002) Just Elections: Creating a Fair Electoral Process in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Umbers, L. M. (2020). ‘Compulsory Voting: A Defence’, British Journal of Political Science, 50(4), 1307–1324.
Volacu, A. (2020). ‘Democracy and Compulsory Voting’, Political Research Quarterly, 73(2), 454–463.
Volacu, A. (2021). ‘Justice, Symmetry, and Voting Rights Ceilings’. Theoria, doi:10.1111/theo.12306
Wilson, J. L. (2019). Democratic Equality. Princeton University Press.
Wolff, J. (1994). ‘Democratic Voting and the Mixed-Motivation Problem’. Analysis, 54(4), 193–196.