A new study published by Oxford University Press argues that it may be time to extend voting rights to animals. While the idea may seem ridiculous at first, the study claims it would simply be an expansion of existing practices where some governments allow the legal rights of animals to be represented through proxies. For example, animals are named as plaintiffs in many US federal lawsuits.

The notion of people acting as intermediaries to protect animals’ moral rights is not new either. And currently, people routinely act as legal guardians on behalf of children or those with mental disabilities who cannot vote themselves.

The animal voting idea is an example of applying the “all affected interests” principle – that anyone affected by a government’s decisions should have a say in that government. All those with interests and stakes in governmental outcomes should be able to participate in the political process that leads to those outcomes.

Historically, many governments have excluded large groups of people like women, slaves, and minorities from voting based on justifications that seemed obvious at the time but are now seen as prejudiced. Similar biases still exist today against various racial, gender, ethnic, disabled, and economic minorities.

The author argues competency is also not a valid reason on its own to exclude animals. It is difficult to find an objective standard to distinguish competent from incompetent voters that satisfies all perspectives challenging current policies of excluding children and the mentally disabled. Figuring out the “right” level of competency and creating a real test for it are major challenges with inevitable disagreements.

Under the voting system envisioned, people would act as designated representatives voting on animals’ behalf but only related to animal welfare issues like farm animal breeding rules, meat production standards, fishing regulations, and pet care policies. Animals do not concern themselves with complex moral issues like abortion or prostitution, so the author argues they should not vote on such topics.

Of course, some controversial policies like certain environmental rules would likely affect animal welfare too. In those cases, animal representatives would either not vote on those proposals at all until scientific consensus emerges, or vote according to their best judgment on what benefits animals most.


Oxford University Press | Ioan-Radu Motoarcă, Animal voting rights, Analysis, 2023, anad053, doi.org/10.1093/analys/anad053

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