The Law of Deliberative Democracy: Seeding the Field

Ron Levy, "The Law of Deliberative Democracy: Seeding the Field" (2013) 12 Election Law Journal 355

ANU College of Law Research Paper No. 14-24

18 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2013 Last revised: 28 Mar 2014

See all articles by Ron Levy

Ron Levy

Australian National University

Date Written: December 14, 2013


Election law scholarship has been slow to take note of the deliberative turn in political theory. Aiming to remedy this omission, a special symposium issue (12:4, 2013) of the Election Law Journal recently featured eleven contributions toward an incipient “law of deliberative democracy” subfield of research in election law. The issue included works from scholars of politics (James Fishkin, Lisa Hill and Dennis Thompson) and law (Yasmin Dawood, James Gardner, Paul Kildea, Graeme Orr, Joo-Cheong Tham, Stephen Tierney and Jacob Rowbottom). Contributors initially aired and discussed ideas - including positions sceptical of deliberative democratic projects - in workshops at New York University and King’s College London in April 2013.

In this introduction to the symposium I provide theoretical context and map out where the various contributions fit among key emerging debates in the law of deliberative democracy. Throughout, I argue that we cannot understand the conditions for effective deliberative democracy without considering the roles of election law. Election law is a pervasive and distinctive element of deliberative democracy’s institutional backdrop. Yet deliberation still enjoys too little normative weight in studies of election law, in comparison with libertarian, egalitarian and other sources of legal reasoning.

Initially I identify three reasons why election law may be unable appreciably to set conditions for deliberative democracy: (1) the accommodation problem: that “accommodative” (win-win) reasoning in deliberative democracy may clash with law’s focus on balancing (zero-sum); (2) the elite problem: that legal elites may be unusually hostile to deliberative democratic projects; and (3) the performative problem: that election law’s underlying assumptions promote partisanship rather than deliberation. However, I conclude by identifying provisional solutions to each of these difficulties.

Keywords: election law, deliberative democracy, deliberation, law of politics

Suggested Citation

Levy, Ron, The Law of Deliberative Democracy: Seeding the Field (December 14, 2013). Ron Levy, "The Law of Deliberative Democracy: Seeding the Field" (2013) 12 Election Law Journal 355, ANU College of Law Research Paper No. 14-24, Available at SSRN:

Ron Levy (Contact Author)

Australian National University ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2600

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