Citizenship, Residence, and Electoral Rights: A Relational Account
Universal and equal suffrage is a cornerstone of contemporary democracies. However, in one very relevant sense, the term "universal" is a misnomer, since all democratic regimes regularly disenfranchise some groups of individuals. Most commonly, the groups targeted are children, the severely mentally disabled, convicted felons, and individuals who are not citizens of the country where elections are taking place. Therefore, while equality is taken to be the default normative principle grounding universal suffrage, distinct principles are usually deployed when attempting to justify disenfranchisement practices. While several alternative reasons can be appealed to in each case, the most common positions are that disenfranchising children and the severely mentally disabled is justified due to their lack of political capacity, disenfranchising convicted felons is justified due to their breaking of the social contract or to their disrespect of democracy, and disenfranchising non-citizens is justified because they are not relevantly affected by the political decisions in question. The framework we are left with through this approach is both muddy and inconsistent, since the four principles (which we can label as egalitarian, epistemic, contractualist, and based on affected interests) are mutually conflictual and there is no non-arbitrary way of distinguishing between cases where each of them should apply. Furthermore, consistently applying one of them leads to profoundly unattractive implications.
The aim of my paper is to offer a rigorous, consistent, and plausible normative grounding of both voting and candidacy rights, drawing on a single foundational principle. I start by rejecting the standard view outlined above. I then argue that the two most prominent attempts of building a single comprehensive approach to voting rights, due to Beckman (2009) and Lopez-Guerra (2014) are both flawed on their own terms and fail to properly locate the relevant normative site for justifying electoral rights, which is the value of democracy. I then explain why instrumentalist and proceduralist justificatory accounts of democracy are inadequate for grounding electoral rights, and why the relational account developed separately by Beerbohm (2012) and Kolodny (2014) provides the most plausible framework for this task. However, I maintain that neither Beerbohm nor Kolodny fully capture the web of relational inequalities inevitably brought about in representative democracies, as they do not account for the vertical inequalities in power between governmental officials and other citizens. Representative democracies cannot, therefore, fully extinguish power-driven relational inequalities (as they suggest), but electoral rights should be allocated so as to minimize them as far as possible. I then use the citizenship-based form of disenfranchisement as an illustrative case for the implications of deploying the revised relational account, arguing that an expanded franchise which grants full electoral rights to both non-residents citizens and resident non-citizens of a polity is warranted.