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Voting rights in the age of globalization

Updated: Nov 13, 2018

While the Westphalian age of sovereign nations that we previously discussed is characterized by a close intertwinement of democracy, citizenship and residence, this relationship has come under growing pressure in the age of globalization. As explained by Daniele Caramani and Florian Grotz in Beyond citizenship and residence? Exploring the extension of voting rights in the age of globalization.

Tribal women in Tripura showing their electoral photo identity cards (EPICs) to vote in the Mandaizabar Assembly in 2008.

Within a state system based on nationality and territorial sovereignty, the universality of suffrage was reasonably delimited by two core criteria: citizenship and residence. The membership to the nation translated into the requirement of being a citizen in order to be able to exercise active and passive voting rights. The territoriality of sovereignty translated into the requirement of living in the state. The very idea of representative democracy was based on the congruence between territory, citizenry, and government institutions. Given the rigid state boundaries and the absence of a supra-national level of governance, the requirements of citizenship and residence were never perceived as unjustified limitations of democratic rights.

The authors study whether in our age of globalisation the extension of voting rights beyond citizenship (that is, to non-national immigrants) and residence (that is, to expatriates) enhances democracy by granting de facto disenfranchised immigrants and emigrants political rights or whether it jeopardizes the very functioning of democracy by undermining its legitimacy through the removal of territorial and national boundaries.

Referring to these two modes of suffrage extension as ‘transnational voting rights’, the article takes several factors into account in trying to answer this question. Important elements are the increased individual mobility and improved communication facilities. This has led to larger migrant communities living outside their country of origin while not naturalising as frequently as in the past in their host country. As migrants may prefer long-term residence status over citizenship, nationality laws have come to play a narrower role because naturalisation implies the automatic extension of the franchise to naturalised migrants. In a world with large mobile groups of non-citizens, application of the classical requirements of citizenship and residence for suffrage would factually lead to the disenfranchisement of both non-citizen residents and non-resident expatriates. However, this does not seem to be a real risk because, as pointed out by Caramani and Grotz, current state practice goes in the direction of offering migrants franchise in their place of residence at local level and in their home country at national level.

The question whether ‘transnational voting rights’ enhance or jeopardize democracy is difficult to answer and depends heavily on the context, including the size of a country’s migrant community and whether it is a consolidated nation and a stable democracy. These factors seem more important in predicting the strength of a particular democracy than the possible extension of transnational voting rights.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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