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Rethinking Elections


Samuel Bagg (Oxford University);

Pierre-Etienne Vandamme (Université libre de Bruxelles);

Parties and elections have long been taken for granted as crucial features of modern representative democracies. As a result, democratic theorists have often been more interested in what happens between elections and outside parties—through mechanisms of judicial review or direct democracy, for instance, as well as in civil society and social movements.

As political scientists have grown increasingly worried about the decline of parties, however (Dalton & Wattenberg 2000; Van Biezen, Mair & Poguntke 2012; Mair 2013), political theorists have begun to re-engage with this institution, highlighting the distinctive problems and possibilities associated with political parties (Rosenblum 2008; White & Ypi 2016; Dean 2016; Bonotti 2017; Rosenbluth & Shapiro 2018; Wolkenstein 2019). In this same spirit, we believe it is time to devote a similar level of normative scrutiny to elections themselves.

One set of questions concerns the basic nature and value of elections. At a minimum, elections seem to facilitate choice between competing elites (Schumpeter 1942) and the peaceful resolution of political conflicts (Bobbio 1987; Przeworski 2018). But is there anything else they can offer (Bagg 2018)? Are elections necessarily “aristocratic” (Manin 1997), and if so, is that normatively defensible (Landa and Pevnick 2020)? More specifically, how do elections actually shape political conflicts? What kind of agency do they allow and require from citizens? What is the role of parties, and are they indispensable to electoral competition? 

We might also investigate potential alternatives and promising strategies for reform. Could we have a democracy entirely without elections (Guerrero 2014), or universal suffrage (Brennan 2016)? What about a hybrid system where elections would play a reduced role (Vandamme & Verret-Hamelin 2017; Gastil & Wright 2018)? Short of these drastic solutions, how can electoral practices be improved? Should popular accountability be increased (Vandamme 2020), and if so, how? Are certain electoral systems better or worse than others? How should electoral campaigns and parties be regulated, and what goals should this regulation seek?

Finally, we are also interested in questions about how various political actors should interact with elections. What kind of tactics can party leaders permissibly engage in, for instance, if they seek to sustain democracy while remaining competitive under highly nonideal circumstances (Bagg and Tranvik 2019, Schedler 2020)? How should the representatives of social movements, organized labor, and other groups interact with electoral politics and political parties?

These are some of the questions we would like to invite colleagues to address in a workshop gathering scholars from different origins, career stages, and research fields. In addition to the two organizers, we have secured commitments from four additional participants: Emilee Chapman (Stanford), Alex Guerrero (Rutgers), Dmitri Landa (NYU), and Elena Ziliotti (TU Delft). Through the open call for papers, we would like to add two or three more participants to the workshop.  

If you are interested in presenting a paper, please send a 500-word maximum abstract to and by April 30, 2021.