Authoritarian States and Voting From Abroad

Why do authoritarian states allow their expatriates to vote? Laurie Brand investigates this puzzle in “Authoritarian States and Voting From Abroad: North African Experiences,” published in the October 2010 issue of Comparative Politics. While significant work has been done on the ways in which authoritarian regimes prevent their citizens from voting, far less attention has been paid to states, both democracies and non-democracies, that extend the franchise beyond national borders. Considering that in May 2007, 115 states do just that, Brand’s paper investigates a highly relevant question, especially in relation to authoritarian regimes. In examining the various reasons why any state would expand the franchise beyond national borders, she finds that for democracies, these motivations include “ensuring that nationals abroad enjoy full (or fuller) citizenship rights” and “the restoration of or respect for political rights” in the case of reemerging democracies.

Why, then, would authoritarian states extend the franchise abroad, especially when elections are often not representative or meaningful? Brand examines the cases of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, all of which accord the vote to their expatriates. She finds that while all three states portrayed their decision to extend the vote in terms of “further development or deepening of citizenship,” other motivations were in fact at play: the cultivation of emigrant loyalty, increasing potential supporters of the regime during periods of economic difficulties, and exerting its sovereignty over emigrant communities are just a few. These three states show that unlike democracies, who may extend the vote to expatriates in order to deepen political participation, authoritarian states are likely to do so as part of a strategic calculus aimed at “reinforcing the position and strength of the hegemonic party.” These findings shed further light on the complexities surrounding elections in nondemocratic contexts, and are highly relevant to anyone working on democracy promotion in electoral authoritarian regimes.

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