Author: Ruvi Ziegler

[Reuven (Ruvi) Ziegler is a lecturer in law at the University of Reading School of Law.] The European Court of Human Rights has consistently held that the undertaking in Article 3 of Protocol I of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)  to hold ‘free elections’ which ‘will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature’ entails an individual right to vote (see e.g. in Hirst (no .2). [57]). While the Strasbourg court pronounced that ‘the presumption in a democratic state must be in favour of inclusion’ and that ‘any departure from the principle of universal suffrage risks undermining the democratic validity of the legislature thus elected and the laws it promulgates’ (Hirst (no .2), [59]), the court has hitherto failed to develop a principled approach regarding the circumstances in which such ‘departure’ may be justified. Instead, it has emphasised that ‘[a]s regards, in particular, the choice of electoral system, the Court reiterates that the Contracting States enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in this sphere’ (Sitaropoulos, [65-66]), as ‘[t]here are numerous ways of organising and running electoral systems’ (Id; also Shindler, [102]). The margin of appreciation doctrine has received both scorn and praise. This post does not concern its general application; rather, it is contended that the court’s voting rights jurisprudence has conflated questions relating to choice of electoral systems (‘First-Past-The-Post’, Alternative Vote, Proportional Representation, Single Transferrable Vote, and the like) with questions relating to voting eligibility. Even if states should enjoy a margin of appreciation which takes into account the ‘historical development, cultural diversity and political thought within Europe’ (Hirst (no .2), [61]) when their choice of system of government is appraised, according states a ‘wide [but] not all-embracing’ (Hirst (no .2), [82]) margin of appreciation in determining voting eligibility detrimentally affects fundamental democratic rights of individual Europeans, as Strasbourg’s jurisprudence concerning voting rights of non-resident citizens (expatriates) exhibits. All democratic states set eligibility criteria for elections of their institutions of government. Alongside the ubiquitous exclusion of non-citizen residents (at least from) national elections of their state of residence, some states - including members of the Council of Europe - impose residency requirements which disqualify expatriates during (part or all) of their period of absence. Consequently, otherwise eligible citizens of one member state of the Council of Europe residing in another member state can be excluded from elections of their state of citizenship and from elections of their state of residence.