Course level: Graduate

2023 (Fall term)
Sciences Po (Paris)

Ordinary citizens’ participation in elections is a cornerstone of contemporary democratic practice. Presidents are elected or ejected from office, governments stand and fall, the authority of legislative program is sustained or undermined, as a result of citizens’ votes. Yet, in many democracies electoral participation rates decline, which raises important philosophical questions. For instance, what is the ethical status of non-voting? Do enfranchised citizens in a democracy have any moral right not to vote? Is electoral participation rather a moral duty, and if so, what is the duty’s exact nature?

Widespread non-voting also raises questions conceptual questions, such as: What kind of right do citizens exercise when they make use of their franchise, deposing marked pieces of paper in the ballot box? What functions does voting play within a democratic system of government? And naturally, there are also questions about institutional design. Notably, one may wonder whether democratic states can justifiably render electoral participation a legal duty.

This seminar proposes to systematically work through these and related questions by surveying recent work in anglophone analytic political theory. In particular, the course aims to familiarise participants with key approaches to the nature and the democratic function of citizens’ right to vote, the justifiability of compulsory voting policies, and the ethics of electoral (non)participation. Enabling participants to characterise, interpret, and critically appraise the most prominent positions and arguments on these matters, the course empowers to students to reflect independently on a fundamental element of the democratic order, while also enhancing their reading, reasoning, speaking, and academic writing skills.