VoiCED Project Workshop: What Should We Vote For


Elections are pivotal moments in the life of a representative democracy. As such, they have long fascinated political scientists, who have been concerned with voting procedures and voting behaviour since at least the Fifties. However, elections have so far eschewed thorough normative analysis. This is not surprising: political theorists tend to defend a richer and more demanding view of democracy than the one employed by political scientists. According to this view, elections are only the final step in an inclusive process of public deliberation and coexist with a more complex set of political institutions. Deliberative democrats, for instance, have rightly claimed that individual preferences are not fixed prior to the political game (contra social choice theorists) and that citizens also vote on the basis of considerations of justice and the common good. On the other hand, theorists of public reason have mostly focused on state institutions, defending the application of justice-related constraints to the justification of coercive laws and to public officials’ and candidates’ discourses. In so doing, both have failed to provide a thorough and convincing account of the normative requirements that citizens may be asked to fulfil qua voters.

As a result, citizens are either assumed to follow their preferences, whatever these are, or demanded, with little explanation, to vote for justice and/or the common good. Interestingly, these two opposing poles appear troublesome for different reasons. If citizens are narrowly self-interested and biased, electoral outcomes not only may threaten justice, but democracy itself. Conversely, if citizens can only be entrusted with voting power if they are knowledgeable and willing to foster the right conception of justice or the common good, the right to an equal vote, usually considered a pillar of democracy, may become the privilege of few competent and/or moral citizens. Furthermore, an exclusive focus on the common good may have unintended ideological effects. Firstly, it prevents people from raising legitimate local or group-related concerns that are unjustly ignored in the public discourse. Secondly, it seems fated to overshadow considerations of global and inter-generational justice, if priority is to be accorded to the good of our societies here and now. At the same time, voters seem to have different duties of justice towards different groups (i.e., our fellow citizens, fellow partisans, other countries’ citizens or future generations) and these duties may conflict with each other.

Even though there is a growing literature on the ethics of voting, this has focused mainly on issues of privacy and compulsory voting and little has been added concerning the legitimate reasons that should feature in citizens’ calculations before voting. The theme of this conference will therefore address, without being limited to, the following questions:

  1. The research work was presented at 11 international venues, such as the ECPR Joint Sessions and General Conference, MANCEPT Workshops, BIAPT Conference and the REDEM project Workshops.
  2. The project has offered the opportunity for organising a workshop titled What Should We Vote for? with an international participation of senior political scientists. It has also offered a basis to be part of the organising and convenor team of two other international wokshops.
  3. The research material has provided the basis for developing a full-semester undergraduate seminar on Political Theory and Democracy which was taught twice at Sciences Po Paris.
  4. Ideas emerging from the project work have led to two opinion articles published in collaboration with Cyrille Thiébaut, a French political scientist, for the French version of The Conversation.
  5. Last, but not least, the project has created a platform to produce and publish a series of interviews with leading experts in political theory on the value of democracy and citizens’ role as lawgivers - an effort which is in full development.


Monday, July 12, 2021

  1. The Ethics of Strategic Voting
    Eric Beerbohm, Harvard University
  2. Blind Election: Tackling Electoral Discrimination
    Nenad Stojanović, University of Geneva
  3. Democratic Voting and the Mixed-Motivation Problem
    Jo Wolff, Oxford University
  4. Conceptions of Citizenship as Normative Foundations for the Ethics of Voting
    Julian Culp, American University Paris
  5. What Should Citizens Vote for? Defending an Institutionalist Approach to Democratic Legitimacy
    Cristina Lafont, Northwestern University

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

  1. On the Practice of Voting
    Chiara Destri, Sciences Po Paris
  2. The Mixed Motivation Problem and the Division of Electoral Labour
    Valeria Ottonelli, University of Genoa
  3. Surrogate Representation
    Fabio Wolkenstein, University of Vienna
  4. Democracy in Selection
    Annabelle Lever, Sciences Po Paris