This report makes up, with the country studies it draws on, a comparative case study which examines the legal rules and practices related to the exercise of the right to vote, including eligibility and representation aspects, and aims to explore the extent to which these enable the participation and representation of all community members. It focuses in particular on the voting rights of foreigners, prisoners, citizens living abroad, and persons with (mental) disabilities. This is fully in keeping with the approach in the task description in the ETHOS grant agreement which states, inter alia, that deliverable 3.4 will be a “comparative case study which examines the legal rules and practices related to the exercise of the right to vote… with a particular focus on the voting rights of foreigners, prisoners, citizens living abroad, and persons with (mental) disabilities (European Commission 2016, p. 22, emphasis added). Mapping the contours of the right to vote in European states show this right to be a fundamental yet limited expression of some key features of justice as understood by and institutionalized through the law. The groups this study has focused on – convicted prisoners, disabled persons, foreigners and citizens living abroad – are disparate, and illuminate different aspects of the matter under examination. When it comes to convicted prisoners, the general trend is towards increasing electoral participation and a gradual expansion of the franchise. The franchise for disabled persons raises different questions. The trend, as for convicted prisoners, has been toward the expansion of the franchise for disabled persons, especially for mentally disabled persons who were hitherto widely disenfranchised. That is not the case for mentally disabled persons. Though the CRPD has made some advances in this area also, it remains fairly common for mentally disabled persons who do not have legal capacity to be denied the right to vote. The final groups that have been examined are foreigners and citizens living abroad. On the whole, foreigners are excluded from the national franchise in the countries under study, although there are broad exceptions for elections for the European Parliament and municipal elections. If it is the case that the franchise has been evolving in a particular direction for convicted prisoners (towards a wider franchise) and physically disabled persons (towards greater state obligations), there is much less clarity as to whether there is a development towards thinking v that foreigners ought to be given greater rights of political participation in the communities and countries where they live.
Tom Theuns, A Comparative Study on the Right to Vote for Convicted Prisoners, Disabled Persons, Foreigners and Citizens Living Abroad, Ethos Reports, 2020.