Voting as Ritual: an Account of the Communal Dimension of Elections

This article explores elections from the perspective of ritual theory. Elections have a significant ritual dimension that is often neglected in mainstream sociological and legal accounts of voting. We analytically apply the category of ritual to understand elections as regulated repetitive collective actions that configure a social temporality and a spatiality. We explore how this perspective help us understand both the visible effects of elections (the efficacy of norms) through its invisible effects (e.g. social cohesion). By stressing the communal dimension of elections we finally discuss three popular debates in election studies that are crucial for liberal democracies: (a) the paradox of participation, i.e. we have little incentive to vote but low participation increases the value of our vote, (b) electronic voting, and (c) mandatory voting. A ritual understanding of voting is useful for theoretical discussions (a) as well as for empirical literature on participation (b, c).