Democratic Legitimacy and the Competence Obligation

Finlay Malcolm

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What obligations are there on voters? This paper argues that voters should make their electoral decision competently, and does so by developing on a recent proposal for democratic legitimacy. It then explores three problems arising from this 'competency obligation'. First, how should voters be competent? I propose three conditions required for voter competence. Second, how competent should voters be? I argue that that the competency required tracks the significance of the consequences of the vote. Third, if the electorate are unlikely to deliver a competent decision, should suffrage be restricted to the competent alone? I defend unrestricted suffrage on the grounds that restricting suffrage cannot guarantee a competently made electoral decision. Instead, obligations on voters should be minimised by political parties satisfying their obligations to be politically sound; if they are sound, then the obligation to be competent can be easily satisfied by voters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-130
Number of pages21
JournalMoral Philosophy and Politics
Issue number1
Early online date11 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • competence
  • democratic legitimacy
  • elections
  • epistocracy
  • suffrage
  • voter obligations


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