Should Parents Be Given Extra Votes on Account of Their Children?: Toward a Conversational Understanding of American Democracy

70 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2000


The liberal political theory that was used to rationalize the apportionment jurisprudence of the 1960s suggests--with a little republican help from the notion of "virtual representation"--the possibility of extra votes for parents on account of their children. It suggests the notion so clearly that the almost complete absence of the idea from American political discourse is something of a mystery. The mystery is deepened by the fact that apportionment is usually done according to total population. Extra voting power is thus already being cast on account of children, but by the district population as a whole, rather than parents. The extra votes idea has surfaced recently, but barely. This Article explores the implications of its mysterious obscurity.

The Article proposes a conversational theory of American democracy, in which public involvement in democratic conversation is the glue that holds the system together. Competitive elections are an essential stimulus for this conversation. The conversational theory is descriptive rather than normative. This accounts for a good deal of its superior descriptive force when compared with liberal and republican theories, which are normative in inspiration and are then turned to descriptive tasks, often without an appreciation of the shift.

The conversational theory comfortably accommodates the continued obscurity of the extra votes possibilities, as well as many other aspects of American political life that cry out for explanation in liberal (or republican) terms. It explains, for instance, the apparent success of the United States Senate, an institution well-suited to democratic conversation, but quite awkward in liberal terms. The extra votes idea may yet catch on, because American democracy is influenced by normative visions. Whether that happens or not, however, there is much to be learned from the fact that the idea remains largely unattended.

Suggested Citation

Bennett, Robert, Should Parents Be Given Extra Votes on Account of Their Children?: Toward a Conversational Understanding of American Democracy. Available at SSRN: or

Robert Bennett (Contact Author)

Northwestern University Law School ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-8430 (Phone)
312-503-2035 (Fax)

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