Emigrant Inclusion in Home Country Elections: Theory and Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa

Emigrant Inclusion in Home Country Elections: Theory and Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa

By Elizabeth Iams Wellman, Williams College and University of the Witwatersrand

Since 1990, nearly 100 countries extended voting rights to citizens living abroad, including 32 in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the actual ability for emigrants to vote in subsequent elections varies widely. Whereas others view diaspora enfranchisement as a signal to emigrant and international audiences, I argue that incumbent parties expand or restrict emigrant voter access depending on party perceptions of political support abroad. I first leverage the multiple reversals over emigrant inclusion in South African elections since 1994 to illuminate how changing dynamics between an incumbent party and citizens abroad shape emigrant voter access. I further test my argument with an original dataset covering multiple dimensions of external voting in every African election where emigrants had voting rights from 1990 to 2015. I find a robust relationship between emigrant voter access and diaspora support for the incumbent party.

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