I have argued that voting is efficacious when it allows individual citizens to play their part in an effective plan for democracy. This account of electoral efficacy might be thought of as a procedural view of efficacy. It does not require that voters achieve particular political outcomes or that elections produce any particular substantive results (such as an electoral mandate). Rather, the efficacy of voting depends on features of the electoral system as a whole; it depends on the extent to which the process of voting fulfills its role in an effective plan for democracy. The importance of plans both for coordinating contributions to the collective project of democracy, and for making manifest the way that political decisions arise from the collective activity of self-rule, suggests that proceduralism will play an important role in a democracy. The collective activity of democracy requires a shared understanding of how the people will act together to achieve their shared goal of collective self-rule.
But the proceduralism of democratic plans differs from the kind of proceduralism that usually applies to elections. A procedural account of democracy requires that decision-making processes conform to a set of rules or expectations. But on the traditional view, whether an election is considered to be a legitimate democratic procedure depends only on design and administration of elections, that is, it is often assumed that procedural rules apply only to the actions of public officials. The account of electoral efficacy I’ve offered challenges this view of proceduralism. Shared plans for democracy do not just apply to public officials, rather they apply to citizens, who are themselves the agents of democracy. The shared plan for democracy tells citizens how they can act so that their actions fit together with others’ to produce their shared goal of collective self-rule. To say that an electoral decision has been made according to the plan or that the system meets the procedural conditions for electoral efficacy, we need to look not just at whether officials have correctly followed the rules in setting up and administering the election, but also at whether citizens have in fact followed the plan for democracy. Given the role of elections in the existing plan for democracy, this electoral proceduralism requires that citizens actually vote.