Perfecting Political Diaspora

26 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2006

See all articles by Peter J. Spiro

Peter J. Spiro

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


This contribution to a memorial symposium in honor of Kim Barry confronts the political rights of non-resident citizens. It first describes the trend towards extending to and facilitating the exercise of the franchise by external citizens. An increasing number of states permit non-residents to vote, in many cases without requiring return to the homeland. The trend requires a changed conception of citizenship and nationhood, as political membership decouples from territorial location. The essay addresses objections to non-resident voting rights, including those based on assumptions that non-residents will be irresponsible and uninformed voters, that they will form unpredictable and destabilizing voting blocs, and that non-resident voting will impose unsustainable logistical costs. None of these objections carry enough weight, empirically or normatively, to deny the franchise to non-resident citizens, voting rights validated by the increasing degree to which non-residents can access information and maintain significant interests in their home states. Nevertheless, voting rights need not be extended on a one-person, one-vote basis. In certain circumstances - in particular, cases in which the home state sets a low bar for non-resident citizenship and where the non-resident citizen population is large relative to the resident population - it may be justifiable to accord lower proportional voting power to non-residents, at least where their interests are discretely represented in national legislatures. In other words, once the concepts of nationhood and full citizenship are no longer bounded by geography, it may be normatively acceptable to derogate from the creed of formal equality between citizens and within the nation. The increasingly prominent practice of non-resident voting, the piece concludes, thus presents a formidable challenge to political liberalism.

Suggested Citation

Spiro, Peter J., Perfecting Political Diaspora. New York University Law Review, Vol. 81, April 2006, Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2006-19, Available at SSRN:

Peter J. Spiro (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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