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Local Voting Rights for Migrants: a Tool for Democracy and a Support for Integration

LUISS Guido Carli
Publication Date
  • Sps/04 Political Science
  • Economics
  • Law
  • Political Science


Saying that migration is in steady increase and that this produces new global challenges is not news anymore. Nor is the fact that migrants are undoubtedly needed for demographic and economic reasons, for our pensions and labour market shortages. It would be also predictable that well managed migration brings benefits to both the States of origin and of destination, as well as the migrant. The key element in every analysis on migration is another: migration is unavoidable and in a near future it will become a natural aspect of every society. The winning approach in ‘managing’ migration should therefore be directed to the creation of those conditions that encourage the natural development of a plural society, rather than focus on containment aspects. It is also true that in public debate the emphasis on integration has recently increased, yet a sort of bipolarism is traceable between the concept from a sociological point of view and the integration policies promoted by the States. Thus, integration courses and programmes – that nowadays cover sometimes also pre-departure courses or become requirements for the legal entry – hide elements of closure rather than a support to inclusion. Looking at migrants as an integral part of the society would instead assume more durable policies. One of the policies that clearly promote this approach, as well as an active involvement of migrants, is the right to vote. Although the progressive enlargement of the electoral suffrage has become a political imperative in democratic history (Raskin, 1992), the opportunity to include the ‘new mass’ of immigrants into the political arena has not found a unanimous application. The heated debate on this topic is based on different attitudes toward political inclusion, which in any case remains one of the strongholds of the State’s sovereignty. On the one side, voting rights are by many constitutions restricted to citizens only and are considered the last step of a successful integration. On the other side, voting rights are increasingly requested in the name of democratic principles of participation and legitimacy and as a tool for integration. Two conflicting views, fundamentally two research questions: are voting rights requested or in contrast with democratic principles? Are they part or the end of the integration process? A third key element to enter in the entangled discussion is the level of political inclusion for migrants, whether at national or local one. How far can their political inclusion be promoted? The study is divided into three parts, using an approach that starts from a theoretical perspective (Part I) and leads to analytical considerations (Part II) and finally to empirical evidences (Part III). Oddly enough, only few have focused on this controversial topic, especially in the European context. This research has the ambition of providing a comprehensive analysis of local voting right policies, while supporting the thesis that political inclusion 3 at a local level is normatively suitable for democracy and practically valuable as a way to promote integration. I argue that the exclusion of non-citizens from the local ballot is not beneficial for democracy, and a missing opportunity to create a favourable setting for integration. Given the multidimensionality and complexity of the topic at stake - which involves concepts such as citizenship, integration, democracy, and political participation - I attempt not to confine the research to a single lens of analysis. I therefore sought to generate a dialogue between the normative level related to the theories of citizenship and the sociology of migration, coupled with empirical analysis and statistical evidences.

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