Felon Disenfranchisement and Democratic Legitimacy

Social Theory and Practice 43 (2):283-311 (2017)
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Political theorists have long criticized policies that deny voting rights to convicted felons. However, some have recently turned to democratic theory to defend this practice, arguing that democratic self-determination justifies, or even requires, disenfranchising felons. I review these new arguments, acknowledge their force against existing criticism, and then offer a new critique of disenfranchisement that engages them on their own terms. Using democratic theory’s “all-subjected principle,” I argue that liberal democracies undermine their own legitimacy when they deny the vote to felons and prisoners. I then show how this argument overcomes obstacles that cause problems for other critiques of disenfranchisement.

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Matt S. Whitt
Duke University


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