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Alexandra Oprea and Daniel J. Stephens

Scholars working on the ethics of voting have written extensively about costs of voting, the rationality of voting, the duty to vote, and the epistemic merits of various electoral systems. In this paper, we add to these ongoing conversations by highlighting a frequently ignored aspect of being a democratic citizen with the right to vote, namely that merely having the franchise subjects one to certain risks, risks that come from being targeted by political actors seeking to influence one’s voting behavior. Our paper aims to provide the first focused account of the risks that one incurs as a direct result of having the franchise in the typical modern electoral democracy, and to draw out the key normative implications of taking such risks seriously.

We start by developing a general account of how democratic processes, particularly the process of political actors trying to win elections, subjects voters to risk. We then provide a taxonomy of the different kinds of risks that face those with the franchise, one that further clarifies the sources of those risks. Afterwards, we turn to the normative implications of incorporating this understanding of democratic risks into democratic theory more broadly. The primary implication is that, since our assessment of risks reveals that different electoral systems carry different degrees of risk, some democratic risks can and should be reduced or mitigated through electoral reforms or other changes in public policy. Moreover, the distribution of democratic risks invites questions of distributive justice, since not all democratic citizens are equally subject to democratic risks and not all electoral systems distribute risks in the same way. By incorporating risks into the analysis, our paper opens up new ground in the project of creating more just and more effective democratic institutions.

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