The Dignity of Voters - A Dissent

40 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2009

Date Written: August 18, 2009


Since the waning days of the Burger Court, the federal judiciary has developed a generally well-deserved reputation for hostility to constitutional claims of individual right. In the field of democratic process, however, the Supreme Court has not only affirmed and expanded the applications of previously recognized rights, but has also regularly recognized new individual rights and deployed them with considerable vigor. The latest manifestation of this trend appears to be the emergence of a new species of vote dilution claim that recognizes a constitutionally grounded right against having one’s vote “cancelled out” by fraud or error in the casting and counting of ballots. I argue here that an important reason for the Court’s anomalous commitment to a robust regime of individual rights in the democratic arena is its conception of the dignity of voters. Rather than approach issues involving democratic process as problems of power or of the proper functioning of a system of representative democracy, the Court instead approaches such issues as problems of the maltreatment of individual voters. This, I shall argue, is a serious mistake in two ways. First, the Court has failed to distinguish among different kinds of rights, and it therefore misuses them. Second, the Court ought not to conceive of voters as bearers of a kind of dignity equivalent to the dignity that all people enjoy in virtue of their humanity – the traditional basis for recognizing individual rights. Instead, I argue, voters are better treated for some constitutional purposes as public officials discharging a public duty, and as therefore entitled either to no particular dignitary rights, or to dignitary rights that are greatly diminished.

Keywords: democracy, elections, voters, rights, election fraud

Suggested Citation

Gardner, James A., The Dignity of Voters - A Dissent (August 18, 2009). University of Miami Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

James A. Gardner (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

Room 514, O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-3607 (Phone)
716-645-2064 (Fax)


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