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Citizen as Voter: A Manufactured Conjunction

Thu, August 31, 12:30 to 1:00pm, Hilton Union Square, Grand Ballroom


This paper aims to investigate the process by which voting and citizenship have come to be linked in the process of American Political Development. Although today, voting rights are considered to be a critical and even a “natural” part of American citizenship (Rolfe 2012, Schudson 1998), historical analysis reveals that this was in fact a manufactured norm in which the concepts of voting and citizenship were shaped at each step of suffrage expansion or contraction. While many commendable and thorough works examine shifts in the franchise, these works do not explicitly interrogate how the franchise came to be inextricably linked with citizenship (Keyssar 2000, Smith 1997). We argue that the link between the two served as a means of more clearly separating, along ascriptive lines, those who would be considered members of the polity and those who would not. Employing a combination of discourse analysis and critical juncture analysis, we examine claims about the franchise from the 1890s to the 1920s as it relates to the women’s suffrage movement and the disenfranchisement of noncitizens in the United States. This type of historical perspective suggests that the current, and in many ways, exclusionary, confluence of citizenship and voting is the result of a contingent process of development, calling into question the apparently natural and unchangeable character of this association.