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This Essay describes the “voting rights paradox”—the fact
that despite America’s professed commitment to universal
enfranchisement, voting rights legislation throughout U.S.
history has arisen in some states to serve antidemocratic,
exclusionary ends. This Essay argues that this contradiction
comes into focus when the right to vote is understood as having
as an ideological driving force based on worthiness for
admission to the franchise. This ideology of worthiness persists
because the right to vote is dependent on political decisions left
to the political branches and the majority’s willingness to allow
propaganda to influence the scope of the franchise.
Ultimately, this Essay argues that the voting rights paradox
is effectively the “invisible hand” influencing the American law
of democracy. The only way out of the paradox is to reorient
voting rights towards a communitarian conception that fosters
an authentic understanding of a universalist right to vote. This
must be expressed by (and coupled with) fundamental,
structural transformations in the mechanisms for allowing
citizens to exercise their voting rights.