Legal Power and the Right to Vote: Does the Right to Vote Confer Power?
Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence, 30(1), 5–22.
It is widely believed that voting rights confer power to individual voters as well as to the collective body of the electorate. This paper evaluates this notion on the basis of two conceptions of political power: the causal view, according to which power equals the ability to exert causal effect, and the legal view, according to which power equals the legal ability to produce legal effect. The proposition defended is that causal conceptions of power are unable to account for the view that voting rights confer power to either individuals or collectives. In particular, the theory according to which the powers conferred by the vote equal the probability of being decisive or “pivotal” in elections does not justify the ascription of power to voters. It does not because the probability of being influential is not a valid interpretation of power as the capacity to mobilize sufficient causal effect to determine an outcome. In addition, causal conceptions of power are unable to recognize the people as the unique owner of political power. The powers exercised by the members of the electorate appear to be just one among several causes that contribute to determine electoral outcomes. In the end, the legal analysis of power proves superior. Power in a democracy is placed with the people as a legal category vested with the legal capacity to revise the legal relationship between individuals and the state.