, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 759–774 | Cite as

Felon Disenfranchisement and the Argument from Democratic Self-Determination

  • William BülowEmail author


This paper discusses an argument in defense of felon disenfranchisement originally proposed by Andrew Altman, which states that as a matter of democratic self-determination, members of a legitimate democratic community have a collective right to decide whether to disenfranchise felons. Although this argument—which is here referred to as the argument from democratic self-determination—is held to justify policies that are significantly broader in scope than many critics of existing disenfranchisement practices would allow for, it has received little attention from philosophers and political theorists. One exception is Claudio López-Guerra, who recently raised several objections to the argument. In this paper, I argue that the argument from democratic self-determination can avoid López-Guerra’s objections. In responding to these, I explicate how and when it can be permissible for a legitimate democratic community to disenfranchise felons. I propose that this is the case only if the disenfranchisement of felons is not intended as a punishment, but as a way to express the view about citizenship one endorses as a democratic collective. I also discuss the implications of the argument in terms of offender reintegration.


Felon disenfranchisement Democratic self-determination Offender reintegration Civil disqualification 



I wish to thank Jesper Ahlin, Marko Ahteensuu, Göran Duus-Otterström, Till Grüne-Yanoff and Zachary Hoskins, for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper. I am also grateful to two anonymous referees for their valuable and constructive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and HistoryRoyal Institute of Technology (KTH)StockholmSweden

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