The Value of the Right to Vote

67 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2015 Last revised: 17 Dec 2015

See all articles by Stephan Tontrup

Stephan Tontrup

New York University School of Law

Rebecca Morton

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics

Date Written: November 18, 2015


We conducted a mixed lab and field experiment during a naturally occurring election. We offered subjects the opportunity to relinquish their voting rights for money. Significantly more participants refused to sell their rights than later participated in the election. Subjects were more willing to accept money for abstention from voting, than for giving up the right to vote itself. In a second experiment we gave subjects an incentive to submit a vote. Before and after the election we measured participants 'knowledge about the parties' and their positions. Even though they would not have voted without the incentive, the participants improved their knowledge suggesting that they valued their vote. Our findings show that people derive strong utility from their democratic rights and status as a voter independently of participation in the election. Based on our results we develop a new concept of rights utility and conclude that low turnout does not translate into democratic apathy and should not be used to justify quorum rules and restrict direct participatory rights.

Suggested Citation

Tontrup, Stephan and Morton, Rebecca, The Value of the Right to Vote (November 18, 2015). NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 15-52, NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 15-24, Available at SSRN: or

Stephan Tontrup (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
+1. 917 535 1165 (Phone)

Rebecca Morton

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics ( email )

715 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
United States
212-998-3706 (Phone)

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