What’s wrong with vote buying

  • Lachlan Montgomery UmbersEmail author


Almost everyone would agree that vote buying is morally wrong, and that prohibitions on vote buying are morally justified. Yet, recently, several philosophers have argued that vote buying is morally permissible, and (in some cases) that it should be legally permitted. This paper begins by examining and criticising arguments that have been offered in defence of vote buying. I then go on to consider existing attempts to explain the wrongness of vote buying, arguing that none is wholly successful. I then advance a novel account of the wrongness of vote buying. Vote buying is objectionable, I argue, because it involves a failure of respect for one’s fellow citizens as autonomous agents. I also consider the implications of my account for a number of other controversial practices.


Vote buying Markets Respect Autonomy Equality Voting 



For helpful comments and criticisms on earlier versions of this paper, not all of which I have been able to address, I thank Geoffrey Brennan, Lisa Hill, Philip Pettit, Nicholas Southwood, Laura Valentini, and Daniel Wodak, together with an anonymous reviewer for Philosophical Studies, and a seminar audience at the Australian National University.


  1. Archer, A., Engelen, B. & Ivankovic, V. (Forthcoming). Effective vote markets and the tyranny of wealth. Res Publica.Google Scholar
  2. Blais, A., & Dobrzynska, A. (1998). Turnout in electoral democracies. European Journal of Political Research, 33, 239–261.Google Scholar
  3. Brennan, J. (2011). The ethics of voting. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Brennan, G., & Lomasky, L. E. (1993). Democracy and decision: The pure theory of electoral preference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brennan, J., & Jaworski, P. (2016). Markets without limits: Moral virtues and commercial interests. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Buchanan, J. M., & Tullock, G. (1962). The calculus of consent. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Christiano, T. (2003). An argument for democratic equality. In T. Christiano (Ed.), Philosophy and democracy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Christman, J., & Anderson, J. (2005). Introduction. In J. Christman & J. Anderson (Eds.), Autonomy and the challenges to liberalism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Copp, D. (2000). Capitalism versus democracy. In J. D. Bishop (Ed.), Ethics and capitalism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  10. Dahl, R. A. (1989). Democracy and its critics. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Darwall, S. L. (1977). Two kinds of respect. Ethics, 88, 36–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Epstein, R. A. (1985). Why restrain alienation? Columbia Law Review, 85, 970–990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Feddersen, T., Gailmard, S., & Sandroni, A. (2009). Moral bias in large elections: Theory and experimental evidence. The American Political Science Review, 103, 175–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Freiman, C. (2014). Vote Markets. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 92, 759–774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gilens, M. (2012). Affluence and influence: Economic inequality and political power in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Goldman, A. I. (1999). Why citizens should vote: A causal responsibility approach. Social Philosophy and Policy, 16, 201–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hasen, R. L. (2000). Vote Buying. California Law Review, 88, 1323–1371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Karlan, P. S. (1994). Not by money but by virtue won? Vote trafficking and the voting rights system. Virginia Law Review, 80, 1455–1475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kochin, M. S., & Kochin, L. A. (1998). When is buying votes wrong? Public Choice, 97, 645–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Levmore, S. (2000–2001). Voting with intensity. Stanford Law Review, 53, 111–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lippert-Rasmussen, K. (2011). Vote buying and election promises: Should democrats care about the difference? The Journal of Political Philosophy, 19, 125–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Philipson, T. J., & Snyder, J. M. (1996). Equilibrium and efficiency in an organised vote market. Public Choice, 89, 245–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Raz, J. (1975). Practical reason and norms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Raz, J. (2014). Is there a reason to keep a promise? In G. Klass, G. Letsas, & P. Saprai (Eds.), Philosophical foundations of contract law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Rose-Ackerman, S. (1985). Inalienability and the theory of property rights. Columbia Law Review, 85, 931–969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Satz, D. (2010). Why some things should not be for sale. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shiffrin, S. V. (2000). Paternalism, unconscionability doctrine, and accommodation. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 29, 205–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Stokes, S. C. (2007). Is vote buying undemocratic? In F. C. Schaffer (Ed.), Elections for sale: The causes and consequences of vote buying. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Google Scholar
  29. Stokes, S., Dunning, T., Nazareno, M., & Brusco, V. (2013). Brokers, voters, and clientism: The puzzle of distributive politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sunstein, C. R. (1994). Incommensurability and valuation in law. Michigan Law Review, 92, 779–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Taylor, J. S. (2017). Markets in votes and the tyranny of wealth. Res Publica, 23, 313–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Taylor, J. S. (2018). Two (weak) cheers for markets in votes. Philosophia, 46, 223–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tobin, J. (1970). On limiting the domain of inequality. The Journal of Law and Economics, 13, 263–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Young, I. M. (2001). Activist challenges to deliberative democracy. Political Theory, 29, 670–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Zwolinski, M., & Wertheimer, A. (2016). Exploitation. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of New South WalesKensingtonAustralia

Personalised recommendations