Tuesday, 30 June 2015

New report: Electoral integrity in Africa

Since its launch in 2012, the Electoral Integrity Project has studied electoral integrity around the world, considering such notions as why electoral integrity matters, why elections fail, and what can be done to address these problems.

A regional focus on Africa

EIP's research programme on Perception of Elections Integrity (PEI) is an ongoing initiative which does not only allow a comparison between countries, but over time will enable us to compare consecutive elections within countries as well as identifying regional trends. Providing an in-depth analysis of recent elections in 28 African countries, this is EIP's first report that presents findings of the study of electoral integrity in a specific region. A continent of great diversity, African elections are under-studied in comparison with Europe or America.

The Hanns Seidel Foundation, a German non-profit organization promoting democracy, good governance and the rule of law across the African continent,  commissioned the report, which was launched in Cape Town on 22 June 2015 by EIP's Ferran Martínez i Coma and Judge Johann Kriegler, former Constitutional Court Judge of the South African Constitutional Court.

The Foundation has welcomed the report, and the PEI index on which the findings are based. Noting that "it is currently the best rating tool available", the Foundation recognises that this is the first attempt to measure electoral integrity across the African continent, and hopes it will stimulate the debate on the integrity of political contests across Africa.

During 2015, Zambia, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Burundi and Burkina Faso, among others, have voted or are expected to do so. The integrity of the elections is crucial, not only for normative reasons, but for instrumental factors, such as the internal stability of the country, and citizens’ satisfaction with their regimes. We are currently gathering data on those contests and hopefully this will be the first of many reports to come.

Purpose of the report

The purpose of this report is twofold. First, to present the African results of the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity expert surveys, and then to analyse important elements at play in shaping the integrity of African elections. Much attention has been placed on polling day and the immediate administration of elections, but Ferran Martínez i Coma and Max Grömping show that many other elements of the electoral cycle are key to the integrity of the elections. 

Eight main findings:

  1. The degree of threats to electoral integrity is more severe in Africa when compared to the rest of the world.
  2. The types of problems in Africa are similar to those found in the rest of the world. Put simply, there is no African electoral exceptionalism.
  3. The report highlights the fact that elections can fail long before election day, so attention should be paid to the electoral dynamics and institutional quality over the entire election cycle not just election day.
  4. State resources for elections are important, but not determinant.
  5. Difficulties in regulating campaign finance extend across the continent.
  6. The vote count is consistently the highest rated part of the election cycle.
  7. Countries with good overall electoral integrity may still perform poorly in certain dimensions of the electoral cycle, on the other hand, low overall performers may excel in certain dimensions.
  8. Two country case studies of Malawi and Mozambique highlight that countries with similar levels of economic development can have vastly different outcomes of electoral integrity.

Download the report

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

How seriously should we take the opinions of academics and experts when it comes to complicated issues like electoral integrity?

This blog post appeared on LSE's Democratic Audit UK on 9 June 2015.

By Ferran Martínez i Coma and Carolien van Ham

The result of the 2015 General Election came as a surprise for most people, but particularly those in the academic and polling community. But what is the appropriate role for academics in an electoral setting, particularly when it comes to complicated issues like the integrity of electoral contests. Ferran Martinez i Coma and Carolien Van Ham seek to answer this question, and conclude that expert surveys are useful even when treating complex and multi-faceted issues, such as electoral integrity; and even when carried out in institutional settings as different as liberal democracies and electoral autocracies.

Senate House, University of London (Credit: Steve Cadman, CC BY SA 2.0)

For many years, social scientists have been using different databases that measure and classify complex, multidimensional and contested concepts such as democracy, freedom or corruption.

The utility of such data is evident not only for academics but also for the policy and the advocacy community. At a glance, such data summaries the state of democracy or corruption in a country, and position it relative to others with a score or ranking. Yet, such scores are not created in a vacuum. On the contrary, data on multi-dimensional and complex concepts such as democracy, freedom or corruption are normally generated through a process of measurement of multiple indicators and subsequent aggregation of those indicators.

In order to measure complex concepts, we need to gather information about their different elements or components. To do so, researchers could rely on public opinion surveys or information contained in media and other secondary sources. However, the level of complexity and the necessary knowledge to address some issues may not be an easy task. Consider, for example, the electoral management body’s autonomy. While probably the general public is able to have an overall assessment of its performance and also the public may know whether such body is formally dependent of the government or not, it is unlikely that the public know the details of the implications of changes in the autonomy of the electoral management body is violated.

An alternative approach is to measure complex and multidimensional concepts with expert surveys. There are good reasons for the use of expert surveys. First, experts are aware of the specificities of the concrete matter, since they have the knowledge and capacity to grasp the fine details. Moreover, experts may have access to information that citizens do not have access to, potentially providing better data on covert practices such as corruption. Third, they considerably diminish the costs of other polling alternatives. Finally, they have been widely used to study, to mention a few, corruption; democracy and its components; party and policy positioning, the power of prime ministers, evaluations of electoral systems, or policy constraints horizons.

However, expert surveys are not risk free. There are several limitations. The first question has to do with the object of evaluation: do experts judge the same aspects of the concept under study? The second is on the criteria that experts use when judging: do they rely on their expertise, or do they also provide personal views? Third, as expert surveys become more comprehensive and encompassing with more and more diverse experts around the world, it is fair to ask whether they share the same criteria when evaluating concepts or whether their judgments are dependent on the context in which the election take place. Finally, it is also the case that, in contrast to mass surveys, there is still no common methodology to construct expert surveys, nor agreed technical standards and codes of good practice. This is very relevant not only for research but also for policy-makers and practitioners using indices and rankings based on expert surveys.

Given the potential advantages and limitations of expert surveys, in our paper in the European Journal of Political Research (EJPR), we assess the validity of experts’ judgments when judging the integrity of elections. We analyse three sources of bias that may arise in expert evaluations: the object, the experts and the context. These sources of bias are applicable to almost all expert surveys. First, the object of evaluation may be defined and perceived differently by different experts. Election integrity is a complex, multifaceted concept, and different experts may emphasise different aspects, ranging from media bias to election violence. Second, experts may differ, both in their level of expertise as well as in their degree of political neutrality. Third, contexts may differ – that is, expert evaluations may be context-bound, limiting the capacity of both concepts and data to ‘travel’.

We test these three sources of bias and evaluate expert judgment validity using a new dataset on expert perceptions of election integrity, the Perceptions on Electoral Integrity (PEI) that asks experts to evaluate 49 specific indicators of election integrity. This database includes 49 variables measuring 11 dimensions of electoral integrity over the electoral cycle. The survey encompasses the full electoral cycle, ranging from the pre-electoral period, the campaign, to polling day and its aftermath, as outlined by the United Nations. The PEI data currently has responses of over 800 experts on 66 parliamentary and presidential elections that took place in 2012 and 2013, covering countries as diverse as Angola, Kuwait, Malaysia and Norway.

An expert is defined as a political scientist (or social scientist in a related discipline) who has published or who has other demonstrated knowledge of the electoral process in a particular country. By ‘demonstrated knowledge’ PEI understands one of the following criteria:

(1) membership of a relevant research group, professional network, or organised section of such a group;

(2) existing publications on electoral or other country-specific topics in books, academic journals, or conference papers;

(3) employment at a university or college as a researcher or professor.

For each election, the PEI survey identified and contacted around forty experts, seeking balance between domestic and international experts. When the number of available domestic experts was limited, as was the case in some developing countries, PEI relies more on international experts.

There are three main findings of our research. First, considering the object of evaluation, we find that questions of a factual nature generate lower deviation in expert judgments than more evaluative questions. We also find evidence that questions that are more difficult to answer, either because the issues are technical or because the information might not be publicly available (i.e. voter registration, campaign finance) generate higher deviation in expert judgments.

Second, when we analyse the heterogeneity of the experts, we argue that they may differ both in their level of expertise as well as in their degree of neutrality. We find that having a high level of knowledge about the election (as indicated by the number of questions answered and age) is not significant in predicting expert variance. However, having strong ideological preferences appears to affect variance between experts. This result underscores the importance of careful selection of experts as well as the consideration of their partisan background.

Third, we also study whether the context –the election they assess and the country in which they are living- impacts experts’ judgments. Among all the factors we include to capture context, almost none seems to impact the variation of expert judgments. The only element that seems to matter is the ideological polarisation between experts, increasing the variability of expert judgments.

Concluding, our overall results demonstrate that expert surveys are useful even when treating complex and multi-faceted issues, such as electoral integrity; and even when carried out in institutional settings as different as liberal democracies and electoral autocracies.

There are several implications from our research both for policy as well as for future research. First, our findings demonstrate the importance of testing the validity of expert surveys prior to using these data for substantive analyses, so that validity problems can be identified and dealt with. Second, our findings underscore the importance of careful selection of experts and taking into account their partisan background when collecting expert survey data. Third, the widespread use of indices based on expert survey data, such as indices on corruption and democracy, by policy-makers and practitioners, underscores the need for developing technical standards and codes of good practice for gathering data using expert surveys.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of Democratic Audit or the LSE. 

Dr Ferran Martínez i Coma is a Research Associate at the Electoral Integrity Project at the University of Sydney. Prior to this position, he was a Technical Adviser for elections for the General Direction of Interior Policy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in Madrid, Spain.

Carolien Van Ham is a Lecturer in Politics at University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

How to regulate the messengers? Insights from electoral media coverage in Portugal

By Carla Luis, May 26, 2015

Carla Luis is a researcher at CES - University of Coimbra, Portugal, and acknowledges the research grant from FCT SFRH/BD/79096/2011. More info available here

Media coverage is one of the critical issues worldwide when it comes to electoral integrity. According to “The Year in Elections, 2014”, recently released by The Electoral Integrity Project, media coverage scores only 60 points in a total of possible 100. 

International standards regarding the media have been developed by institutions such as UNESCO, The Council of Europe and OSCE, among others. While there is a wide margin for each state to regulate the issue, equal, impartial and non-discriminatory treatment is shared as a common benchmark. This is due to the prominent role of the media, being balanced information and impartiality important standards regarding election coverage. An impartial and independent body should also be appointed to monitor these issues. 

Portugal is probably not an exception on media coverage challenges and there is a public debate on this issue going on at the moment. The Portuguese electoral system for parliamentary elections is proportional, with D’Hondt method. There are 230 seats, divided among 22 multi-member constituencies. Parliamentary representation is usually achieved by about six parties, varying according to the political situation, with many more registered political parties, though not all running for each election. 

Facing a severe economic crisis, with external financial interventions, Portugal is a political exception in Europe in two specific aspects: no extreme right-wing party has emerged, nor a new left wing one has been able to capitalise the crisis discontentment. The two major political parties are again competing for power in what seems to be a tight race. However, new political parties have been created in the recent times, especially on the left, some with quite charismatic political actors. With no threshold, there is an effective chance that these small parties can elect members for the parliament, particularly in big constituencies, typically in urban areas. At this level the competition is also high. These two aspects, combined, can increase the importance of the media coverage for the upcoming elections. 

Portugal has a strong regulatory framework on elections. The Portuguese Constitution establishes the general principles of electoral law (art. 113), foreseeing “equal opportunities and treatment for all candidatures” during the campaigns (n. 3, b), being this further replicated in each electoral law. It binds not only public entities but also the media, within the electoral period (about two months before the election day). Paid advertising is forbidden and a limited free airtime period is provided to all candidacies, on an equal basis, during two weeks before the election (the official campaign period). The EMB, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) is the responsible body for media monitoring in the electoral period, i.e., from 60 days before the election takes place. This in line with common international standards, following regulatory patterns of countries such as Germany or France, towards equal treatment or equal opportunities on access to the media. 

Nevertheless, and despite the clear regulatory framework, if we look at the media coverage in the last 2011 parliamentary elections, namely news coverage time that televisions devote to each party, the figures seem to follow a pattern.

Table 1: Total time of news coverage to each party by RTP, public tv broadcast company, in the 2011 electoral period. Source: NEC, Portugal

Table 2: Total time of news coverage to each party by TVI, private tv broadcast company, in the 2011 electoral period. Source: NEC, Portugal

Table 3: Total time of news coverage to each party by TVI, private tv broadcast company, in the 2011 electoral period. Source: NEC, Portugal 

Looking at these tables, the question arises: is this the desired outcome and is this compatible with the general principle for equal media coverage? Is an equal level playing field being ensured to all competing parties? If the essence of elections is to provide freedom of choice, are citizens being duly informed of their available options? Should parties even be omitted from a 60-day media coverage period? Probably, the answer is no and the EMB has already raised the issue for several times.

The Council of Europe Guidelines for media coverage emphasize that in a PR system with low threshold “the case for equal access is stronger”, giving The Netherlands as an example[1]. Furthermore, regardless of the regulatory framework, the result to achieve should be a fair and balanced broadcast, with equal access for political parties. These would be specific obligations impeding on the media during the electoral period. 

Nevertheless, despite the clear legal framework, Portuguese media have been arguing that the existing regulation is too strict, as journalists are already bound by deontological codes of conduct (differently from media companies) and media freedom should prevail. But the question remains: are these outcomes of campaign coverage acceptable? 

It would probably help if we could place these questions within the electoral context, looking at the broader interests at stake. Media coverage has a paramount importance for fair and balanced elections, allowing voters and citizens to have an informed freedom of choice. 

Therefore, when looking at the Portuguese case, even changing the law will not change the principle and the need for balanced media coverage remains, also deriving from international standards. Furthermore, if with a strong regulatory framework the result is the above, one may wonder what the outcome of a non-regulated scenario would be. In 2015, with new entrants on the political area, many of them being small parties competing for the first time, and the tight competition scenario among the biggest parties, the demand may be higher regarding fair media coverage.

Regardless of the law, equal treatment by the media is foreseen by the Portuguese Constitution and also arises from international standards[2]. Equal opportunities to compete for power may well be the essence of elections, nowadays with the key role of the media. Broader public interests are at stake. Effective balanced media coverage during the electoral period will always be needed. Contrary to the excess of regulation argument, the OSCE 2009 Observation Mission even noted that the legal framework would lack a timely enforcement mechanism applicable to the media. So, maybe the answer is not amending the law towards a less regulated framework. 

Nevertheless, media coverage regulation being currently discussed at the Parliament, with a fierce opposition from media companies, threatening to boycott the campaign coverage, which already led to the withdrawal of a proposal presented by the major political parties. There is uncertainty regarding this outcome but the pressure is high and public debate rarely goes beyond the media perspective. 

With parliamentary elections taking place this autumn and presidential in the beginning of 2016, the scenario of potential legal reform is risky. It is already too close to the elections, and the strong opposition from the media may lead competing parties not to challenge their de facto power in the eve of two much disputed electoral cycles. The consequences of this tense context are still to be seen, but legal reforms in these scenarios are rarely desirable. 

It is probably for a reason that media coverage remains a problem worldwide. In nowadays mediated societies, no one seems to be willing to oppose powerful media and even the public debate seems to be misplaced. In the meantime, broader aspects like the public interest, the right to information and to be informed, pluralism, equal opportunities and fair access to the media seem to be missing from this very mediated discussion. Framing the debate on the specific electoral context could help to achieve a balanced answer, combining broader aspects at stake.

In the meantime, the quest for balanced media coverage remains. In the eve of crucial electoral processes, it is still to be seen who can successfully regulate the messengers. 


[1] Media and Elections Handbook. Council of Europe. 1999, p. 32, available at http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/media/doc/Media&Elections_en.pdf

[2] For instance, see the Council of Europe, in Resolution 1636 (2008), “Indicators for media in a democracy”, state that “political parties and candidates must have fair and equal access to the media. Their access to media shall be facilitated during election campaigns” (8.5).

Friday, 22 May 2015

Good elections in bad times: The Tunisian case

Alessandro Nai, May 21, 2015

The Lisbon Forum met in Tunis 28-29 April 2015 to discuss “Financing electoral campaigns: a challenge for the electoral processes in the countries of the Southern Mediterranean.” The event sought to understand the role of money in electoral politics in order to formulate concrete proposals which met the requirements of a democratic, transparent and equal electoral process.

Tunisia, cradle of the Arab Uprisings, is facing a hard time. Even though its economy seems on the way to full recovery and international investors and funds seem rather supportive, the country is still facing some major social challenges. Tunisia is often described a particularly fertile breeding ground for ISIS fighters, and by some estimates Tunisian fighters in Syria and Iraq greatly outnumber those of other countries and regions. Beyond the drama of the event itself, the deadly attack of the Bardo Museum in Tunis on March 18th revived the fear of a decline in tourism-related incomes, extremely important for the country's economy. Especially in a context where tourism was slowly recovering from the turmoil of the Arab Spring, the Bardo attacks will undoubtedly have severe repercussions for the fragile economy. Even if the Tunisian society is undoubtedly more tolerant and avant-garde than some of its neighbours about women rights, gender-related violence is still high in the country, and over the last four years since the 2011 revolution unrests and public outburst of violence have been rather common.

Against this background, the country has recently experienced one of the most significant social and political transformations of the decade, following a series of substantial political reforms. These led to the ratification of the 2014 Tunisian Constitution. The legislative elections on October 26th 2014 and the presidential election on November 23rd and December 21st 2014 were important tests for the transition from autocracy, and they were closely scrutinized by the actors of the political, civil and academic society.

Citizens were somewhat suspicious about the Tunisian electoral process in the months prior to the October-December contests. This can be illustrated by Tunisian data from the sixth wave of the World Value Surveys, based on a representative sample of 1,205 Tunisian respondents surveyed in 2013 (margin of error +/- 2.74%). The results show that a clear majority of Tunisians estimates that violence is a threat at the polls, that only about half of the respondents thought that votes in elections are counted fairly and that voters are offered a genuine choice (Table 1). At the same time, about the majority of respondents think that election officials are fair, and that journalists provide fair coverage of elections.

Table 1

How often in country’s elections…
Fairly or very often
Not or not at all often
Voters are threatened with violence at the polls
Opposition candidates are prevented from running
Voters are not offered a genuine choice in the elections
Votes are not counted fairly
Journalists do not provide fair coverage of elections
Voters are bribed
Rich people buy elections
Election officials are not fair
TV news favours the governing party
Source: World Value Surveys, 6th wave (2010-2014), N=1205 (original wording reversed for some items to ensure comparability)

This relative distrust comes as no surprise given the tormented recent history of Tunisian democracy.

What is more surprising, perhaps, is that expert indicators measuring the quality of the 2014 elections show relatively positive evaluations. As presented in the Electoral Integrity Project 2014 Year In Elections Report, experts in the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity index (PEI) rated the recent Tunisian elections quite favourably: in comparison with the 127 elections surveyed since June 2012, the Tunisian elections rank at respectively the 25th (presidential election, second run) and 34th position (legislative election) from the top. The overall quality of electoral procedures and laws, the role of EMBs, vote counting and party and candidate registration flirts with the one of well-established democracies such as Norway, Sweden and Germany. Only the financing of electoral campaigns was rated more poorly (57 on a 0-100 scale for both elections).

To provide a more grounded comparison, recent elections in Algeria (presidential election, April 2014) and Egypt (presidential election, May 2014), both countries who share with Tunisia a recent past of political and social turmoil, rank respectively 103rd and 115th on the PEI data. Within this context, « Tunisia stands out as a beacon of hope for democracy » (EIP, The Year in Elections 2014, p. 21).

The Tunisian case illustrates some of the factors that can enforce (or depress) electoral integrity. Data gathered within the Electoral Integrity Project allow for cross-sectional comparison between countries, and they are able to show that some strong dynamics are at play. For instance (see Figure 1 below), there is a strong correlation between electoral integrity (as measures via the PEI index) and the stock of democracy that, roughly, measures the « length of time [a country…] has been democratic from 1972 to 2010 » (EIP, The Year in Elections 2014, p. 13).

This being the case, overall patterns do not prevent the existence of outlier cases, and the most recent Tunisian elections clearly fall into this situation. Having roughly the same historical stock of democracy as Egypt and Algeria, Tunisia reaches a score of electoral integrity that goes beyond such patterns, one of the only real outliers among the 107 countries surveyed. The Tunisian case stands out as an exception even more when compared with countries having a stronger democratic traditions but having performed more poorly in the recent elections in terms of integrity such as, to name just the most prominent example, United States.

Participants at the event

The North-South Centre, financed by the European Union and implemented by the Council of Europe, organized the meeting in Tunis, following an official invitation from the Tunisian authorities.

The Electoral Integrity Project provided the keynote speech opening the meeting. Officially representing the EIP, Dr. Alessandro Nai gave a speech on the definition, components and implications of electoral integrity. The talk introduced the audience to the innovative approach of the EIP to measure electoral integrity, and provided a focus on the recent Tunisian elections.

The participation at the Forum was an excellent opportunity for the EIP to strengthen its ties with the policy stakeholders involved in electoral monitoring and engineering. Participants, coming from the civil and political society, showed unmasked eagerness to know more about the project, the proposed comparative measure of electoral integrity, and the prescriptive work that awaits the EIP in the upcoming months. The keynote speech was, furthermore, widely covered in the national press in Tunisia, and beyond.

Other participants at the initial introductory sessions were Mohamed EZZINE CHLEYFA (Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the Tunisian Republic), Jean-Marie HEYDT (President of the Executive Committee of the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe), and Lora BORISSOVA (Democracy and Election observation, European External Action Service (EEAS), European Union). Later sessions saw the participation of, among many others, of Richard GHEVONTIAN (Member of the Venice Commission, Aix-Marseille University, France), Andreas GROSS (Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Head of the PACE delegation for the observation of 2014 legislative elections in Tunisia, former Chair of the Council of democratic elections - Venice Commission), Lamiaa KALAWI (Regional Coordinator – Middle East and North Africa Region, Transparency International), Dr. Mohammad AL-MASALHAH (Commissioner, Independent Election Commission, Amman – Jordan), Isabel MENCHON LOPEZ (Focal point for Human Rights defenders & for Election Observation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain), and Dr Quentin REED (Anti-corruption/ Governance Consultant).

Whether the experience of Tunisia can be consolidated and deepened further in subsequent contests, and whether the lessons spread to other fragile and poorer neighbouring states in the region, remains to be seen in these turbulent times. The new Tunisian government seems eager to prove to the world, and especially its neighbours, that the country is on the right path. The meeting of the newly elected President, Mr. Essebsi, with representatives of the US government is Washington on May 21st testifies of its good will to reinforce strategic partnerships with important allies, against the backdrop of tense relationships with some of its neighbours. Only time will tell if the 2014 elections were a clear turning point in Tunisian political and social history.

Addressing electoral integrity in Africa

By Andrea Abel van Es, May 22, 2015

On April 29th and 30th, the Electoral Integrity Project, represented by Dr. Andrea Abel van Es, took part in the first of a series of working group meetings organized by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), on the topic of “Addressing Electoral Integrity in Africa”.

Since the 90s, most African countries have held up to three consecutive elections; the focus of election assessment has therefore shifted from whether African countries are able to conduct regular elections to that of the quality and integrity of these elections. In the last 18 months, elections were held in over 14 African countries, of which a number of these elections led to disputed outcomes. The contests in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Malawi exemplify elections that were in the spotlight for different reasons, ranging from the technical hitches to allegations and suspicions of fraud in the management of voter registration and results tabulation.

Election observer missions have been limited in their ability to undertake an in-depth analysis of some of the complex phenomena and factors impacting the integrity of elections, because of the vagueness of existing instruments with regard to the terms that define the quality of democratic elections. Furthermore, while the instruments provide some sanctions against member states that fail to conduct democratic elections, the aforementioned limitation of observer assessment also limits the extent to which these sanctions can be enforced.  

Commonwealth observes Zambia 2011 Elections, Photo credit- Liesl Harewood

Election observation is undertaken by different groups and institutions on the basis of universally accepted principles that set the benchmarks for assessing elections. These principles are enshrined in different international norms and obligations that require states to conduct regular competitive elections. African states are subscribed to a number of regional and sub-regional obligations that include: the African Union Constitutive Act; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; the AU/OAU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa; the Guidelines for AU Election Monitoring Missions; The ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance; the EAC Protocol on Good Governance; the ECCAS Treaty and the SADC Principles and Guidelines on Democratic Elections.

Since different regional and sub-regional organizations often have different obligations and conceptualizations of electoral integrity varying in detail, oftentimes different observer groups come to differing conclusions with respect to the conduct of elections, making it hard for those policy makers wanting to affect change and improve the integrity of elections to do so, and easy for those incumbents who want to maintain the status quo to do so.

EISA has commenced a research and advocacy project aimed at contributing to the assessment of electoral integrity and mitigation of electoral flaws that undermine democratic consolidation and good governance in Africa. The project further seeks to understand why election observation missions lead to differing results in terms of improved elections across Africa, and to consolidate the various assessment frameworks in to an appropriate basis for evaluating electoral integrity in Africa.

The meeting of the working group in April kicked off the one-year inception phase of the project focused largely on research to provide a context-specific framework for defining electoral integrity in Africa. The first phase seeks to publish selected case studies of recent elections (Namibia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia, Kenya, Burundi, Congo Brazaville and Central African Republic), identifying the common trends and challenges faced and how they were addressed. Dr. Abel van Es, as the international expert on Electoral Integrity, gave a presentation on Global Perspectives on Election Integrity, to situate the context of the African continent.

The working group, composed of regional experts including Mr. Ayman Ayoub Ayoub (North Africa expert), Dr. Victor Shale (Southern Africa expert), Mr. Ibrahima Amadou Niang (West Africa expert), Professor Gilbert Khadiagala (East Africa expert) and Professor Alain Didier Olinga (Central Africa expert), as well as EISA staff.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Frequently asked questions about the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) Index

Figure 1: Electoral Integrity around the world (2012-2014)
Source: Electoral Integrity Project. 2014. The expert survey of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity, Release 3 (PEI_3.0)

Part of the Electoral Integrity Project's mission is to to raise awareness about the important issues pertaining to electoral integrity globally. With this goal in mind we engage academics, practitioners, and the wider public through outreach events. Examples are the Lisbon Forum, the deliberations surrounding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN, the ECPR Joint Sessions in Warsaw, or the second Asian Electoral Stakeholder Forum in Dili. More information about previous and upcoming outreach here.

One task at such events is to present the EIP's annual report and explain the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) Index as a novel tool for measuring electoral integrity. One tool among many others, to be sure. 

A number of questions about the PEI and its methodology are asked repeatedly at such events. Enough to prompt us to collate the answers to some of the most common questions below. We keep a record of these FAQs here and will update these if and when new questions emerge. Please do not hesitate to contact us directly via electoral.integrity[at]sydney.edu.au with further questions.

Q: Who are the experts?

The identity of the country experts must be treated with confidentiality due to privacy issues. But in more general terms, an expert is defined as a political scientist (or social scientist in a related discipline such as sociology, economics, law…) who has published or who has other demonstrated knowledge of the political processes in a particular country. Specifically, we define demonstrated knowledge by the following criteria: (1) membership of a relevant research group, professional network, or organized section of such a group; (2) existing publications on electoral or other country-specific topics in books, academic journals, or conference papers; (3) employment at a university or college as a teacher. The selection sought to include a roughly equal balance between international and domestic experts. 40 persons per country were invited to participate in the survey. 

For more information about expert selection please also refer to:
Norris, Pippa, Ferran Martínez i Coma, and Richard W. Frank. 2013. ‘Assessing the quality of elections.’ Journal of Democracy. 24(4): 124-135. 

For a more detailed account of how the validity of the experts’ judgments was tested see:
Martínez i Coma, Ferran and Carolien Van Ham. 2015. ‘Can experts judge elections? Testing the validity of expert judgments for measuring election integrity’. European Journal of Political Research, 54(2):305–325.

Q: Why does the EIP not seek the opinion/assessment of domestic or international election observers?

There is no doubt that the reports of domestic election monitoring organizations are a crucial source of information about the quality of elections. Very important work is done by professional associations such as GNDEM or regional networks such as ANFREL to develop systematic indicators and standards. 

Nevertheless, there are reasons why one might want to supplement and triangulate several sources of information to make reliable and valid claims about the quality of an election.. Some of the shortcomings of election observer assessments are as follows: 

1) There are sometimes diverging assessments of election quality by different observer groups. Three examples can exemplify this:
  • One example is the Cambodian 2013 election: the invited group of observers of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) and the Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI) claimed that the process had been ‘free, fair and transparent.’ Yet, other groups such as the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) or the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) under the umbrella of the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA) asserted significant problems. 
  • In another example in the 2013 election in Azerbaijan observers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) concluded that there was “a free, fair and transparent electoral process.” By contrast, the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission, which consisted of 13 Baku-based international experts and 30 long-term observers, criticized the electoral process by concluding that it "was undermined by limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association that did not guarantee a level playing field for candidates." 
It seems fair to say that there are observer groups of different standard, some of which might have partisan leanings, while others conduct their assessments with the utmost professionalism. Initiatives such as the Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring are crucial in generating common standards in this regard. In practice, however, given the lack of impartial accreditation of observer missions, the dividing line is somewhat slippery. Given this heterogeneity, one cannot rely solely on domestic observer organizations’ reports to assess the quality of elections.

2) In addition, it has not been clearly established whether observer reports are based on consistent standards over time, or whether expectations have altered with the expansion of international missions and developments in human rights thinking since the use of observers became more common in the mid‐1980s. Comparative evidence needs to be reliable across countries and across time.

3) The most severe restriction in relying on domestic election observer assessments is the fact that not all countries have such groups. When it comes to international observers, the pool of countries that are being observed is even more limited. What is worse, observers are more likely to go into countries that already have problems with elections, whereas in a large group of countries in the OECD world elections are not monitored by civil society group or foreign observers at all. For a comparative view on the quality of elections it is thus imperative to rely on evidence other than that of domestic observers, simply for the fact that otherwise one could not cover all countries in the world. It is for instance impossible to find civil society observers of elections in Norway, Germany, or France. But we would still like to get an idea about the quality of elections there.

Q: Why are one-party states such as Cuba or North Korea included in the survey?

Some researchers might automatically exclude one-party states like North Korea from the comparison, on the grounds that human rights in these countries are so deeply flawed as to make the elections just a façade disguising autocratic rule. We feel, however, that there are several reasons for documenting levels of integrity in all these diverse cases. 

1) One is that the degree of party competition varies substantially worldwide, as illustrated in Figure 2 below. Legal bans, while a major violation of human rights, are only one mechanism to restrict opposition. It is an empirical matter to measure the degree of party competition, such as by monitoring the seat or vote share won by the leading party in parliamentary contests, or the vote share of the winning presidential candidate. The PEI Index is designed to measure all the ways that party and candidate competition can be limited, for example through lack of a level playing field in access to party finance or state resources, partisan manipulation of district boundaries (gerrymandering), excessive legal requirements for ballot access, and high de jure or de facto vote-seat electoral thresholds. In several micro-states, small legislatures with majoritarian electoral systems also allow a clean sweep in a landslide victory for one party.

2) In addition, it is also important to monitor the contemporary quality of all elections worldwide to create benchmarks for future change, should states loosen legal restrictions on party and candidate competition in subsequent elections. 

3) Several aspects of electoral governance may still function relatively cleanly and efficiently even in states with restricted party competition and human rights. Indeed the quality of electoral governance may be higher in these cases than in several fledgling democracies with weak state capacity and insufficient resources to stamp-out malpractices and irregularities such as vote-buying, ballot-stuffing, or security threats. In Cuba, for example, during the nomination process some genuine competition is reported among rival candidates. Moreover, in the case of North Korea, mustering the nation is a chance for the authorities to hone their mobilisation skills, check the efficiency of local leaders and get a snapshot of internal movements, and in all the logistical aspects may be well run.

4) The mean results also need to be read along with the confidence intervals which we publish, as well as the number of responses and response rates per country. Anyone is also free to exclude states with few expert responses to the evaluations. 

5) Finally this is a Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey and obviously perceptions differ, and they may be wrong, for example concerning Republicans believing in fraud and Democrats believing in suppression. If we second guess the expert responses, for example if we personally disagree with the face validity of the assessments in cases such as Cuba, Iran and N. Korea so that we drop these cases, then this invalidates the process of gathering expert views.

Figure 2: PEI by levels of party competition
Note: The seat share is calculated by the proportion of seats in the lower house of the national parliament held by the largest party following the election.
Source: Electoral Integrity Project. 2014. The expert survey of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity, Release 3 (PEI_3)

Q. Why is my country not included in the survey?

The PEI survey of electoral integrity focuses upon independent nation-states around the world which have held direct (popular) elections for the national parliament or presidential elections. The criteria for inclusion are listed below. Excluded from the universe of cases are micro-states, since it turned out to be excessively difficult to locate 40 experts for such small countries. Furthermore excluded are countries that do not hold direct national elections either de jure or de facto (see below). The elections analyzed in this report cover the period from 1 July 2012 to 31st December 2014. In total, PEI 3.0 covers 127 elections in 107 nations. For 2014, 54 elections were surveyed in 50 countries.

Criteria for inclusion in the survey
Definition and source
Total number of independent nation-states
Membership of the United Nations
Excluded categories

Population less than 100,000 in 2013, including Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Liechtenstein, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Nauru, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Seychelles, and Tuvalu.
Without de jure direct (popular) elections for the lower house of the national legislature 
Brunei Darussalam, China, Qatar,  UAE, and Saudi Arabia
State has constitutional provisions for direct (popular) elections for the lower house of the national legislature, but none have been held since independence or within the last 30 years (de facto)
Eritrea, Somalia, and South Sudan
Sub-total of nation-states included in the survey

Covered to date in the PEI 3.0 dataset (from mid-2012 to end-2014)
62% of all the subtotal of nation-states containing 4.2bn people.
Table 1: Countries covered in PEI release 3.0

We will be covering more national parliamentary and presidential elections in independent nation-states around the world once these are held. For example, elections to be covered in 2015 include the UK, Canada, Nigeria, and Myanmar. The results of the survey will be published in subsequent reports in a cumulative fashion so that eventually the project will achieve global coverage.

Max Grömping
Sydney, 18 May 2015

Max Grömping is a researcher for the Electoral Integrity Project at the University of Sydney. His current research focuses on the impact of social media and domestic observers on electoral integrity. Prior to this, he lectured at Thammasat University, Thailand.