The Politics and Ethics of Disenfranchisement

The Politics and Ethics of Disenfranchisement

Convenors: Andrei Poama (Leiden University), Tom Theuns (SciencesPo/UvA)

Many of the current debates on voting rights focus on reasons for extending the franchise to those who have never enjoyed it, like non-citizen residents, children or, more recently, non-human animals. With some exceptions, contemporary political theorists have paid less attention to the practices whereby voting rights are taken away from persons who have previously been entitled to exert them.

The purpose of this panel is therefore to focus on the question of disenfranchisement, as distinct from the one of enfranchisement. This means that we will examine the underlying rationales and justifications for those practices whereby people lose their right to vote, broadly understood. We will focus on voting rights and, more specifically, on actual or proposed forms of legally sanctioned disenfranchisement, as opposed to de facto obstacles to exerting the franchise. As such, we are interested in both partial and total forms of permanent or temporary (legal) disenfranchisement. Historical examples such as civil death and the 1935 Nuremberg Laws are also interesting sources of analysis. Further, papers that engage the conceptual politics of disenfranchisement or offer taxonomies of disenfranchisement are welcome.

Examples of types of cases and topics we are interested in are the following:

  • Existing categories of legally disenfranchised people: homeless persons (because of residence requirements); disabled persons (because of insufficient cognitive capacity); convicted felons (because of criminal offences); emigrants (because not living in the country anymore); transgender persons (because of rigid voter identification laws); denaturalized citizens (voluntary or involuntary); citizens of states undergoing autocratic transition; citizens of seceding states/regions.
  • Categories suggested as candidates for disenfranchisement: the uneducated or politically ignorant; those citizens ‘unaffected’ by a political decision; elderly persons (loss of cognitive capacity/lower stakes).

Paying specific attention to disenfranchisement is important for at least four reasons. First, it matters normatively for deciding whether the loss of the franchise is harder to justify than franchise extension. Second, it provides a platform for assessing the nature of voting rights, whether we construe them as basic rights, constitutional rights, positively sanctioned privileges, or following other theoretical models. Third, discussing disenfranchisement can enrich our views about the relative merits of voting as compared to other democratic procedures, like deliberation or sortition. Finally, and more generally, current democratic backsliding and rising illiberalism make the normative issues surrounding disenfranchisement a particularly pressing political issue that needs to be addressed.

We welcome contributions from the fields of normative political theory, legal philosophy, and ethics. If you would like to present a paper at this workshop, please send an abstract of 400-500 words to by June 1st, 2017. Notification of acceptance will be given on June 10, 2017. If you are a student, this will give you time to apply for a bursary (deadline June 16, 2017).

In order to be able to pre-circulate papers in due time, full drafts will be due two weeks before the workshop on the August 28, 2017. The format of the workshop will be heavily focused on the discussion of fairly short, pre-circulated papers (max. 6,000 words).