УДК 342.8


Протасов Антон Владиславович
Алтайский государственный университет

Автор в данной статье рассматриваются некоторые недостатки избирательной системы в Соединенных Штатах Америки. В статье анализируется неоспоримое влияние лишения гражданских прав уголовных преступников на избирательную систему Соединенных Штатов, и как это представляет собой полное изменение универсализации права голоса. Кроме того, некоторые основные аспекты и слабые стороны нескольких систем голосования рассматриваются в статье. Более того, автор уделяет много внимания мнению Роберта Даля о формировании и функционировании Коллегии выборщиков США.


Protasov Anton Vladislavovich
Altai State University

The author in this article discusses some shortcomings of the election system in the United States of America. This article analyzes the undeniable impact of felon disenfranchisement restrictions on the United States electoral system and how it constitutes a reveal of the universalization of the right to vote. Also, some major aspects and weaknesses of several voting systems are discussed in the article. More than that, the author pays a lot of attention to Robert Dahl’s views on the formation and operation of the Electoral College of the U.S.A.

Keywords: Electoral College, electoral system, felon disenfranchisement, shortcomings, suffrage, United States of America., universalism, voting system

Библиографическая ссылка на статью:
Протасов А.В. The right to vote not for everyone: some shortcomings of the United States electoral system // Политика, государство и право. 2014. № 6 [Электронный ресурс]. URL: https://politika.snauka.ru/2014/06/1702 (дата обращения: 15.05.2024).

Undoubtedly, the right to vote is the spirit of the American Democracy and a democracy in general.  The issue of voting rights in the United States has been contentious throughout in the country’s history. Different thinkers had various views on suffrage in different times. Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza addressed the issue of political impact of felon disenfranchisement in their article “Democratic Contractions? Political Consequences of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States” that was published in American Sociological Review in 2002.

Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza begin their article with short describing of some moments in the history of suffrage and the role of suffrage in the modern political regimes. They emphasize that the right to vote is one of the fundamental principle of democracy. Talking about universal suffrage, authors say that “over the course of nineteenth and twentieth centuries, restrictions on the franchise within countries claiming democratic governance gave gradually eroded, and universal suffrage  has come to be taken for granted as a key component of democracy in both theory and practice” [1, p. 778]. In this way, universal suffrage, at a minimum, has become the essential element of democratic governance; “the history of suffrage has been generally viewed as a steady march toward universalism” [1, p. 780].

Robert Dahl writes that the right to fully participate in political life of a society for a minority of adults was limited by governments through over centuries in human history [as cited in 1, p. 777]. Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza show that “restrictions on the voting rights of felons and ex-felons” including non-incarcerated felons are the counter-example to the universalization of the franchise in democratic societies [1, p. 778].

According to R. Holding, there is a group of roughly 5.3 million Americans who are not allowed to vote [2]. And the reason why they cannot vote is that they are felons. Searching the connection between criminal justice and felon disenfranchisement, Uggen and Manza indicate changes in the criminal justice regime over the past three decades. For a 50-year period, from the 1920s to the early 1970s, there was “a model of “penological modernism” in which the rehabilitation of the offenders was the primary goal of incarceration” [1, p. 781]. According to this policy, “United States incarceration rates fluctuated within a narrow band of approximately 110 prisoners per 100,000 people” [1, p. 781]. This system began to change in 1960s, and by the mid-1970s a new model called “an anachronism” emerged. The new punitive strategy of deterrence and incapacitation has had “a remarkable impact, producing an enormous increase in felony convictions and incarceration, and a corresponding increase in rates of felon disenfranchisement” [1, p. 781]. Citing data from 1974 to 2000, Uggen and Manza clearly show the dynamics of the growth in the number of the felons: “since 1970, the number of state and federal prisoners has grown by over 600 percent, from fewer than 200,000 to almost 1.4 million” [1, p. 781]. Thus, “The total disenfranchised population has risen from less 1 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 2.3 percent of the electorate in 2000” [1, p. 782].

More than that, Uggen and Manza wonder about an impact of felon disenfranchisement on American democracy because there are so many people who cannot vote. They successfully try to refute the view that there is no reason to think that disenfranchisement has any substantive impact on political outcomes.

Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza write that the United States of America has an electoral system that requires a simple plurality for victory; therefore, in this system a small number of voters are often decisive, especially in tipping points. Determining the impact of felon disenfranchisement on the American democracy, authors come from the likely political behavior of the felons, their political preferences. According to Uggen and Manza, “Racial minorities and the poor are significant overrepresented in the U.S. criminal justice system. We estimate that 1.8 million of the 4.7 million felons and ex-felons currently barred from voting are African Americans. Because African Americans are overwhelmingly Democratic Party voters, felon disenfranchisement erodes the Democratic voting base by reducing the number of eligible African American voters. Moreover, the white felon population is principally composed of poor or working-class offenders who are likely to vote Democratic” [1, pp. 780-781]. On this basis, we can conclude that there is an obvious effect of felon disenfranchisement on the outcomes of democratic elections, at least on the Democratic Party.

Drawing on extensive statistical information, Uggen and Manza explore in detail the impact of felon disenfranchisement on presidential and senate elections. They emphasize that “felon disenfranchisement laws, combined with high rates of criminal punishment, may have altered the outcome of as many as seven recent U.S. Senate elections and at least one presidential election. <…> we estimate that the Democratic Party would have gained parity in 1984 and held majority control of the U.S. Senate from 1986 to the present. Changing partisan control of the Senate would have had a number of important policy consequences” [1, p. 794].

Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza clearly show the evidence of the undeniable impact of felon disenfranchisement restrictions on the U.S. electoral system. More than that, they underline that “in this sense rising levels of felon disenfranchisement constitute a reversal of the universalization of the right to vote” [1, p. 796].

Another article, “May the Best Man Lose” by Dana Mackenzie, focuses on different types of voting systems: plurality voting system, approval voting, and the Borda count. Mackenzie starts talking about shortcoming of the U.S. election system with a case. This case describes McCain’s 2000 campaign. During this campaign, he was the most favorable candidate but then he was out of the race. Because of both primaries and the elections in the U.S. are based on the plurality vote, McCain was “just the most recent candidate done in by the paradoxes of election mathematics” [3].

The plurality system has several weaknesses; one of them is that “the winner often amasses only a plurality, not a majority, of the votes” that leads to the situation when “the plurality winner could be everybody else’s least favorite candidate and could even lose to each of the other candidates in a head-to-head battle” [3].

Mackenzie describes two another voting systems, explains the voting procedure of each system, and then compares differences and similarities between them.

Approval voting is a single-winner voting method where voters may vote for as many candidates as they like; the winner is the most-selected candidate. Emphasizing the advantage of the approval voting, Mackenzie writes that “approval voting gives each voter equal “sovereignty” over the way his or her vote is counted” [3], it provides more equal opportunity and helps voters to express themselves better. Mackenzie is absolutely sure that approval voting can truly change the election outcomes and gives several examples in paragraphs 14 and 15.

The Borda count is another election methods in which voters rank candidates in order of preference, “each voter ranks all of the candidates from the top to bottom.” The Borda count is the election procedure that “gives us ties” by “respecting the symmetries of data”; therefore, it does not give us paradoxes and unwanted outcomes [3].

According to Mackenzie, there are several differences between the approval voting method and the Borda count; particularly, she points out that these theories “clearly live in different world. Bram’s approach [the approval voting method] is classical, axiomatic, and deductive. Saari’s [the Borda count] is geometric and visual” [3].  Another kind of differences includes an image of the voter. “Bram’s theory assumes that voters will often not be able to side with one candidate over another; Saari’s starts from the viewpoint that they can rank all of them” [3]. Also, there is a difference between “sovereignty” and “indeterminacy”. Mackenzie writes that “Brams argues that voters should have “sovereignty”— that one voter’s 1-2-3-4-5 may be different from another voter’s 1-2-3-4-5. Saari laments the “indeterminacy” of the approval vote, the fact that the outcome is not fixed only by the voters’ preferences but also depends on their voting strategies.” Also, Dana Mackenzie speaks about similarities, “they both ask voters to choose whom they would pick if their favorite were eliminated” [3].

Robert A. Dahl classifies suffrage as a shortcoming of the American Constitution. In his opinion, the Constitution did not guarantee the right of suffrage, because the Main Law leaved the classification of suffrage to the states. More than a half of population was excluded from the electoral process; it did not have the right to vote. According Dahl, “It took a century and a half before women were constitutionally guaranteed the right to vote, and nearly two centuries before a president and Congress could overcome the effective veto of a minority of states in order to pass legislation intended to guarantee the voting rights of African American” [4, p. 16]. In my opinion, Robert A. Dahl is a supporter of the expansion of voting rights for felons and he would agree with the arguments of Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza. I think he supports an idea of the greater involvement of the population in the electoral process because the right to vote is a fundamental element of citizenship in democratic societies.

Describing formation and operation of the Electoral College, Dahl writes that “No part of the constitution revealed the flaws in its design more quickly than the provision for the Electoral College” [4, p. 77]. He highlights a number of democratic defects of the Electoral College. First, he mentions the 2000 presidential elections when a candidate with a majority of popular votes lost the presidency. Robert A. Dahl states the contradiction between popular votes and electoral votes. Particularly, Dahl writes that “the candidate with the greatest number of popular votes – a plurality or even an outright majority – might not receive a majority of electoral votes and thus might fail to be chosen president” [4, p. 79]. Thus, there is an opportunity for a candidate to win with a minority of popular votes. Second, Dahl mentions other electoral system, and in this case he fully agrees with Mackenzie. He writes that “In some cases where no candidate receive a majority of popular votes, if voters’ second choices had been taken into account (as they can be in some electoral systems), <…> it is altogether possible that the outcome might have gone in other way” [4, p. 81]. Third, Dahl thinks that unequal representation of voters is one more defect of the Electoral College. He says that “because each state is entitled to “a number of electors equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives” from the state, unequal representation in the Senate plays itself out one again” [4 p. 81]. Thus, we can conclude that Dahl would agree with the arguments of Christopher Uggen, Jeff Manza, and Dana Mackenzie.

I think that the right to vote is an essential attribute of democracy and it should be expanded for felons in the United States of America. I think that instead of prohibiting felons from voting; let’s require them to do it. That way, they will continue to repay their debt to society, long after they walk out of prison. Each democracy should evolve and look for new methods and approaches that will help it to function more efficiently. Democracy is not only a procedure; it is also a state of mind and a way of life. The American Democracy should use different voting system to strengthen the capacity of the most accurate counting of votes.

  1. Uggen, C., Manza, J. (2002) Democratic contractions? Political consequences of felon disenfranchisement in the United States. American Sociological Review, 67, 777-803.
  2. Holding, R. (2006, November 1). Why can’t felons vote? The Time. URL: http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1553510,00.html
  3. Mackenzie, D. (2000, November 1). May the Best Man Lose? Discover, 21 (11). URL: http://discovermagazine.com/2000/nov/featbestman/#.UoWVfrprNDE
  4. Dahl, R. A. (2003) How is Democratic the American Constitution? Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09524-4 (pbk).

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