Volume 81, Number 1

April 2006

Perfecting Political Diaspora

Peter J. Spiro

This Article addresses the political rights of nonresident 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 nonresidents 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 Article addresses objections to nonresident voting rights, including those based on assumptions that nonresidents will be irresponsible and uninformed voters, that they will form unpredictable and destabilizing voting blocs, and that nonresident voting will impose unsustainable logistical costs. None of these objections carry enough weight, empirically or normatively, to deny the franchise to nonresident citizens; voting rights are validated by the increasing degree to which nonresidents can access information and maintain significant interests in their home states. Nevertheless, the Article argues, 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 nonresident citizenship
and where the nonresident citizen population is large relative to the resident population—it may be justifiable to accord lower proportional voting power to nonresidents, 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 among citizens and within the nation. The increasingly prominent practice of nonresident voting, the Article concludes, thus presents a formidable challenge to political liberalism.