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Democratic Equality and Voting Rights: Should All Votes Count the Same?

Participation
Political theory
VIRTUAL005
Andreas Albertsen
Aarhus Universitet
Attila Mraz
Eötvös Loránd University

There is a strong tendency to presume equal voting rights to be a prerequisite for a polity to qualify as a democracy. Is this presumption warranted? This workshop welcomes all papers that address voting equality, its normative justifications, its conceptual connections to democracy, and its empirical implications for contemporary democracies. The presumption in favour of voting equality guides empirical investigations of democracies and holds across different normative ideals about democracy (Dahl, 1989: 109; Riker, 1982: 52). Democratic theory tends to consider voting equality as a fixture of political equality (Dworkin, 1987: 9; Kolodny, 2014: 289; Christiano, 2008: 95). The specifications of voting equality vary, but these views share idea that citizens' equal standing requires equal voting power. However, this has raised empirical, conceptual, and normative challenges. Empirically, political scientists questions whether voting equality is realized in actual democratic institutions. Some have pointed out that certain federal institutions, such as the election of US Senators, are inconsistent with democracy because, by constraining majorities, they violate voting equality (Dahl, 1983; Kelemen, 2007). These empirical investigations tend to take for granted (1) that voting is a form of power that must be equally distributed, and (2) that equality of voting power is indeed a core feature of political equality. Conceptually, it is unclear what voting equality entails when we need to decide how votes must be counted, and what else is equalized in addition to the number of ballots per person. If voting is a form of power that citizens exercise and voting equality means an equal distribution of this power, how should this power be conceptualized? Is voting power a matter of a priori chance of being decisive (Kolodny, 2014) or actual preference distribution (Barry, 1980)? Voting equality has also been challenged from a normative perspective. Dworkin takes the tension between equal impact (the effect one has on the decision through her vote) and equal influence (the effect one has on the decision by others’ vote decision), as a compelling reason to reject any non-instrumental view of democracy (Dworkin, 1987: 17). Wall considers the link between equal status and equal voting power unwarranted (Wall, 2007: 417). Others have argued that democracy can be consistent with plural voting (Brighouse and Fleurbaey, 2010). Even more radically, some have challenged the very idea that democratic equality would require elections (Guerrero, 2014; Saunders, 2008). Thus, democratic theorists have offered views of political or democratic equality, which rejects a direct link between the equality of status and the equality of votes. These challenges have reshaped normative theorizing about the value of democratic equality and have raised methodological challenges for empirical political science. If voting equality is less essential to democracy than traditionally believed, then we need different measures to classify countries. More abstract measures of democratic equality may be harder to operationalize, whereas more readily operationalizable measures such as the equal number of votes or equal impact make such assessments easier and more amenable to comparisons across polities, but such measures may rely on shakier normative grounds.

This workshop welcomes papers on all these related issues and particularly, but not exclusively, addressing the following questions: ● What does voting equality consist in? Does it involve a kind of power over political decisions, and if it does, what is the normatively relevant conceptualization of this power? ● Is voting equality morally desirable, necessary, or sufficient for democratic equality, and why? ● What is the relationship between democratic, political, social, and moral equality? ● What are the grounds of the moral concern with (in)equality in voting? Should equality in voting be valued given its expressive, recognitional significance or as an equal distribution of power? Can and should these concerns be reconciled in a theory of democratic equality? ● If voting equality is required by democratic equality, what makes it special as an institutional realization of this ideal? Is the tight link between the ideal and its institutional realization historically contingent, or is it a matter of conceptual necessity? ● If voting equality is not required by democratic equality, is that because in certain circumstances, democratic equality does not even ground pro tanto reasons for voting? Alternative, is it the case that voting equality is pro tanto required by democratic equality, yet all things considered, it is outweighed, constrained, or overridden by other, conflicting requirements grounded in democratic equality? Or else, can a pro tanto case for voting equality ever be outweighed, constrained, or overridden by other, conflicting requirements grounded in some other ideals or values external to democratic equality? ● If equality in voting is not necessary for democratic equality, could the latter permit or even require, in some circumstances, plural voting schemes, or electoral quotas? If not, why not? If yes, who should be the beneficiaries of such schemes and why: the more competent, due to epistemic concerns, or victims of (political?) discrimination, as an affirmative action policy? ● How could or should the political equality of children and people living with profound cognitive disabilities be realized? Through equal voting, and if so, how should they be assisted in voting to achieve full political equality? ● What kind of challenges do different theories of equal voting power raise to evaluate real-life polities as democracies, or the comparative study of democracies? ● How valuable are 'hard' criteria such as equal number of votes, equal impact or non-gerrymandered voting districts as proxies to measure the realization of more abstract, malleable ideals such as equal status? ● If the realization of hard criteria are valuable proxies for the realization of democratic equality, how far do empirical political scientists need to rely on the findings of normative political theory in identifying the moral requirements of democratic equality? ● If the realization of hard criteria are not useful proxies for the realization of democratic equality, is it possible at all to measure the realization of democratic equality in real-life polities, especially comparatively across polities? If so, how?’

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