Transnational Voting Essay

Transnational voting is the extension of traditional territorial enfranchisement, or suffrage, beyond national borders. It is typically considered an adaptation of the traditional voting system to global circumstances characterized by overlapping sociopolitical interactions.

The life of individuals is, for the most part, limited to domestic sociopolitical interaction. As a result, the focus of political arrangements has been on institutions with a similarly limited, national scope. Global transformations now alter the traditional boundaries of sociopolitical interaction, affecting almost all aspects of citizens’ lives. State-only democracy has consequently come under increasing pressure for its incapacity to guarantee individual and collective autonomy when facing transnational issues related, for instance, to security or the environment. Challenged by increasing international interdependence, the principle of democratic congruence between rulers and ruled demands an extension of the traditional institutional arrangements to a more inclusive system. In order to avoid the democratic deficit, which characterizes international affairs—known as transnational exclusion—an extension of democratic institutional arrangements to the global level is needed. The voting mechanism is key within such arrangements.

Extending the traditional method of voting to the transnational and global levels entails redrawing national constituencies to include further layers of regional, transnational, and global voting, thus envisaging new forms of transnational citizenship. Cosmopolitanism, according to which individuals are primarily members of humankind rather than of a specific nation or group, is the most prominent theory backing the extension of democratic principles. According to cosmopolitanism, the scope of justice should be universal because no discrimination is justified when considering the ultimate entitlement of all citizens to individually control their own destiny. Humanity is thus considered as a single ethical community, as belonging to a single polity. Rather than eliminating national allegiance, cosmopolitanism would only imply the addition of further international and transnational political rights toward more participatory institutional arrangements.

In the realm of transnational voting, there are debates about three main issues of cosmopolitanism: how to draw the constituencies, who the actors are, and which voting techniques to use. There are two approaches to follow for the delimitation of jurisdictional boundaries. Global stakeholder democracy would allow the bottom-up creation of jurisdictional boundaries that include, in any electoral jurisdiction, all those individuals whose interests are significantly affected by a specific interaction, regardless of their nationality. Global federal democracy would conversely include all individuals, regardless of their specific interest, in an overarching institution that would then have legitimacy to draw, top down, the jurisdictional boundaries in the lower levels.

Two principal proposals are advanced for the typologies of actors. While some argue for the inclusion of individuals only, others would extend the political enfranchisement (possibly with consultative status only) to collective actors such as multinational corporations or international nongovernmental organizations. Finally, as far as voting techniques go, more technologically sophisticated electronic voting sometimes replaces traditional ballot voting; this arguably overcomes some of the practical difficulties of transnational elections.

Transnational voting is contested, however, by a number of scholars from realism to communitarianism and liberal internationalism. While based on different norms, these positions share the view that voting cannot be extended to the transnational domain. There would be insurmountable technical problems, loosening of the social bonds essential to any political community, or a drift toward an authoritarian regime dominated by supranational powerful elites.

Within the European Union, citizens are granted political entitlements that transcend their national allegiances. Among these entitlements, the enfranchisement for the election of the European Parliament constitutes the clearest case of transnational voting. European citizens are currently entitled to vote for their local councils, their regional authorities, their national parliaments, and the European Parliament. Thus, they have political voice at several levels of political action. Migrants also vote transnationally, although they do not vote for a transnational constituency. They are entitled to vote in their countries of origin—possibly by mail—and in their countries of residence, though often limited to local or administrative elections (approximately forty countries now allow for local enfranchisement of migrants). Both the case of European citizens and of migrants allow a more inclusive and less parochial discussion about a number of political issues, especially in relation to multiculturalism.


  1. Falk, Richard, and Andrew Strauss. “Toward World Parliament.” Foreign Affairs 80, no. 1 (2001): 212–220.
  2. Frey, Bruno S., and Reiner Eichenberger. The New Democratic Federalism for Europe: Functional, Overlapping, and Competing Jurisdictions. Cheltenham, UK: Elgar, 1999.
  3. Kuper, Andrew. Democracy beyond Borders: Justice and Representation in Global Institutions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  4. Macdonald,Terry. Global Stakeholder Democracy: Power and Representation beyond Liberal States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008..
  5. Marchetti, Raffaele. Global Democracy: For and Against: Ethical Theory, Institutional Design, and Social Struggles. London: Routledge, 2008.

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