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Making Offenders Vote: Democratic Expressivism and Compulsory Criminal Voting

  • ANDREI POAMA (a1) and TOM THEUNS (a2)


Is criminal disenfranchisement compatible with a democratic political order? This article considers this question in light of a recently developed view that criminal disenfranchisement is justified because it expresses our commitment to democratic values. We call this view expressive disenfranchisement and refer to the general conception in which it is grounded as democratic expressivism. Contra supporters of expressive disenfranchisement, we argue that democratic expressivism does not offer a sound justification of criminal disenfranchisement. Additionally, we argue that, insofar as one really cares about answering serious criminal wrongs via an expression of democratic values, criminal disenfranchisement should be abandoned and replaced with a policy that temporarily obliges the relevant criminals to vote. Democratic expressivists should, in other words, move from supporting the disenfranchisement of serious offenders to endorsing a policy of compulsory criminal voting for a finite period of time.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

*Andrei Poama, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs, Leiden University,
Tom Theuns, Postdoctoral Researcher, Utrecht University; Research Associate, University College Roosevelt; and Associate Researcher, Centre for European Studies, and Comparative Politics, Sciences Po Paris,


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The authors would like to thank the participants of the panel on The Politics and Ethics of Disenfranchisement held at the MANCEPT conference in Manchester in September 2017, the ‘Philosophy and Public Affairs’ seminar held at the University of Amsterdam in October 2017, the colloquium in practical philosophy held at Utrecht University in October 2018, and the seminar of the Center for Political Philosophy at the University of Leiden. Particular thanks are given to Bert van den Brink, Marcus Carlsen Häggrot, Carlo Invernizzi Accetti, Eva Groen-Reijman, Steven Klein, Annabelle Lever, Tom Parr, Diana Popescu, Milena Tripkovic, Alexandru Volacu, Fabio Wolkenstein, Toon Kerkhoff, Natascha van der Zwan, Alexandre Afonso, and Sarah Giest. Tom Theuns would like to acknowledge funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 727112 since February 2018.



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