Wednesday, 19 March 2014

International concern about Canada's proposed Fair Elections Act

We, the undersigned, international scholars and political scientists, are concerned that Canada’s international reputation as one of the world’s guardians of democracy and human rights is threatened by passage of the proposed Fair Elections Act.
We believe that this Act would prove [to] be deeply damaging for electoral integrity within Canada, as well as providing an example which, if emulated elsewhere, may potentially harm international standards of electoral rights around the world.
In particular, the governing party in Canada has proposed a set of wide-ranging changes, which if enacted, would, we believe, undermine the integrity of the Canadian electoral process, diminish the effectiveness of Elections Canada, reduce voting rights, expand the role of money in politics, and foster partisan bias in election administration.
The bill seeks to rewrite many major laws and regulations governing elections in Canada. These major changes would reduce electoral integrity, as follows:
Elections Canada: The proposed Act significantly diminishes the effectiveness of Elections Canada, a non-partisan agency, in the fair administration of elections and the investigation of electoral infractions by:
· Severely limiting the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to communicate with the public, thereby preventing the CEO from encouraging voting and civic participation, and publishing research reports
· Removing the enforcement arm of the agency, the Commissioner of Elections, from Elections Canada, and placing it in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a government department
· Prohibiting the Commissioner from communicating with the public about the details of any investigation
· Preventing any details about the Commissioner’s investigations from being included in the DPP’s annual report on the Commissioner’s activities – a report that the DPP provides to the Attorney General (AG), and which the AG forwards to Parliament
· Failing to provide the Commissioner with the power to compel witness testimony (a significant obstacle in a recent investigation of electoral fraud)
Right to Vote: The proposed Act diminishes the ability of citizens to vote in elections by:
· Prohibiting the use of vouching to establish a citizen’s eligibility to vote
· Prohibiting the use of Voter Information Cards to establish a citizen’s identity or residency
The prohibition against vouching is ostensibly to reduce voter fraud yet there is no evidence, as affirmed by the Neufeld Report on Compliance Review, that vouching results in voter fraud. These changes to the voter eligibility rules will disproportionately impact seniors, students, the economically disadvantaged, and First Nations citizens, leading to an estimated disenfranchisement of over 120,000 citizens.
Money in Politics: The proposed Act expands the role of money in elections by:
· Exempting “fundraising expenses” from the spending limits for political parties, thereby creating a potential loophole and weakening enforcement
· Failing to require political parties to provide supporting documentation for their expenses, even though the parties are reimbursed over $30 million after every election
· Increasing the caps on individual donations from $1200 to $1500 per calendar year
· Increasing the caps on candidates’ contributions to their own campaigns from $1200 to $5000 per election for candidates and $25,000 per election for leadership contestants
· Creating a gap between the allowable campaign contributions of ordinary citizens and the contributions of candidates to their own campaigns, and thus increasing the influence of personal wealth in elections
Partisan Bias: The proposed Act fosters partisan bias and politicization by:
· Enabling the winning political party to recommend names for poll supervisors, thereby politicizing the electoral process and introducing the possibility of partisan bias
· By exempting “fundraising expenses” (communications with electors who have previously donated over $20 to a party) from “campaign spending,” creating a bias in favour of parties with longer lists of donors above this threshold – currently, the governing party
The substance of the Fair Elections Act raises significant concerns with respect to the future of electoral integrity in Canada. The process by which the proposed Act is being rushed into law in Parliament has also sparked considerable concern. The governing political party has used its majority power to cut off debate and discussion in an effort to enact the bill as soon as possible. By contrast, the conventional approach to reforming the electoral apparatus in Canada has always involved widespread consultation with Elections Canada, the opposition parties and the citizens at large, as well as with the international community.
In conclusion, we, the undersigned, ask that the proposed legislation should be revised so that contests in Canada continue to meet the highest international standards of electoral integrity.
Yours sincerely,
Professor Shaun Bowler, University of California, Riverside, US
Professor Brian Costar, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia
Professor Ivor Crewe, University College, Oxford, UK
Professor Jorgen Elklit, Aarhus University, Denmark
Professor David Farrell, University College, Dublin, Ireland
Professor Andrew Geddis, University of Otago, New Zealand
Professor Lisa Hill, University of Adelaide, Australia
Professor Ronald Inglehart, University of Michigan, US
Professor Judith Kelley, Duke University, US
Professor Alexander Keyssar, Harvard University, US
Dr. Ron Levy, Australian National University, Australia
Professor Richard Matland, University of Illinois, US
Professor Dan Meagher, Deakin University, Australia
Dr. Jenni Newton-Farrelly, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia
Professor Pippa Norris, Harvard and Sydney Universities, US/Australia
Professor Graeme Orr, University of Queensland, Australia
Professor Andrew Reynolds, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US
Professor Ken Sherrill, Hunter College, City University of New York, US

Professor Daniel Tokaji, The Ohio State University, US

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Why is the quality of US elections ranked 26th out of 73 contests worldwide?

Pippa Norris

New evidence from the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index highlights the quality of elections. The expert survey provides a standardized way to compare 73 elections held around the globe from 1 July 2012 to 31 December 2013. One of the most striking observations is another example of American exceptionalism - unlike most Western democracies, the United States ranked exceptionally poorly - 26th worldwide, similar to countries such as Mexico and Mongolia. By contrast, countries such as Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria were all ranked in the top ten.

What explains this rating? The results suggest that the United States suffers from several fundamental flaws of electoral governance and voting administration, and a complex series of partial policy reforms which have sought to address concern. Problems in electoral administration were exemplified most dramatically by Bush v. Gore in Florida in 2000; since then several new initiatives, notably the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), have sought to ensure that every eligible citizen can register and that every vote will be counted accurately.[i] Yet many deep-rooted structural problems have not been tackled, indeed some have probably worsened since Florida as issues of electoral rights and voter fraud have become increasingly partisan, litigious, and contentious during the last decade.[ii]

Estimates about the quality of the 2012 US election are illustrated in Figure 1, showing the evaluations provided by experts in the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey. For comparison, the figure also includes estimates for the Netherlands, selected as another long-established democracy but one with a far more positive rating. As the radar-gram shows, across nearly all dimensions, the United States consistently scores less well than the Netherlands, with the exception of media coverage and party and candidate registration. The evaluations of the Unites States is particularly critical in terms of electoral laws, redistricting, and voter registration procedures, all reflecting contemporary controversies and partisan divides in American politics.  Campaign finance regulations were another weak area, although here the gap between the countries was less marked. 
Source: Electoral Integrity Project. 2013. the expert survey or perceptions of electoral integrity, PEI2.

What has contributed towards this performance? Most democracies have established an independent national election management body, accountable to the legislature, with primary responsibility for registering citizens and managing the electoral process.[iii]   In America, however, electoral administration remains highly decentralized, fragmented, partisan, and often under-resourced. The Federal Election Commission’s role is limited to making campaign finance contributions and spending more transparent, and in this regard they do a fine job, although transparency per se does not necessarily lead to greater accountability. The Electoral Assistance Commission was created under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 as a new federal agency tasked with overseeing and monitoring certain minimum standards of electoral administration, but primary responsibility for conducting elections is specified in the US constitution as a state-level responsibility.[iv] The 2000 Florida contest in Gore v. Bush spurred changes in voting technologies and voter registration laws, but the effectiveness of these developments has been patchy. Little attention has been paid to the ground troops manning the local polling places, although the quality of American elections rests ultimately in the hands of partisan local officials, “frequently ill-equipped, poorly trained, part-time administrators”, and paid day-volunteer poll workers.[v] 

U.S. citizens are required to mail their registration form to counties, cities and townships, in most places usually well ahead of polling day. One in four eligible electors — at least 51 million Americans—fail to do so.  Complex rules and deadlines for registering vary across states, as do facilities for early and absentee voting.[vi] Despite the e-governance revolution, citizens resident in the United States continue to submit hand-written registration forms, vulnerable to problems of legibility, missing information and processing errors.[vii] Party activists and voluntary organizations handle, collect and submit bundles of forms, as do officials of the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The official forms also collect information on party affiliations, released as part of the public record, a potential violation of basic rights to confidentiality. The Pew Center estimates that about 24 million names on the electoral register are invalid or inaccurate.[viii] This includes about 1.8 million dead and some 2.8 million who have duplicate registrations in more than one state.  The Pew report suggests that about 12 million registrations have errors serious enough to make it unlikely that citizens can be contacted by mail. In addition, some 3.3 million Americans with felony convictions remain disenfranchised, in some states for life, due to prohibitive legal regulations or burdensome procedures for reinstating voting rights.[ix]  Another 4.1 million citizens resident in US territories such as the US Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico are ineligible to vote in presidential elections.

Far from making citizen participation easier, during the last decade many American states have passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification at polls, cutting back early voting periods, or imposing new restrictions on voter registration drives. In mid-2012, legislation of voter ID requirements is pending in around two thirds of all US states, including new voter ID proposals in fourteen states, proposals to strengthen existing voter ID laws in ten states, and bills in nine states to amend the new voter ID laws passed in 2011.[x] It is estimated that the effect of implementing these requirements in several key states depressed turnout in the Obama v. Romney contests by around one to two percent.[xi]  Republican legislators claim that the new rules preserve the integrity of the ballot box. Democrats argue that the changes discourage turnout, especially among minorities and young people. Overall the immense hoopla about potential fraud in U.S. elections seems largely manufactured rhetoric; a study analyzing criminal cases and prosecution statistics from 2000-2005 concluded that, according to this evidence, actual cases of election fraud explicitly intended to affect the outcome of a federal election are almost nonexistent.[xii] Another detailed account arrived at similar findings: although millions of Americans cast ballots, almost no one knowingly and willfully casts an illegal vote today, so that voter fraud is a ‘politically constructed myth’.[xiii] Where restrictive voter identification requirements generate a systematic suppression of disproportionately Democratic voters, including the poor, African American and Hispanics, then this also goes beyond maladministration to raise fundamental questions about the violation of human rights.

The problems of maladministration at the ballot box are substantial; however they pale into insignificance compared with challenges caused by the pervasive role of money in American politics.  Spending is unlimited during the long campaign; in the 2008 Obama v. McCain campaign, for example, over $1.7 billion dollars was raised by all the presidential candidates, a ten-fold increase since Carter v. Ford in 1976.[xiv] The 2012 electoral cycle is estimated to have cost more than $6 billion in total, the most expensive elections yet.[xv] The total costs during presidential electoral cycles has risen steadily from 2000 to 2012 by around one billion per cycle, far more than the cumulative rate of inflation. [xvi]  Financial donations to candidates and parties are monitored and regulated by the Federal Election Commission. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. FEC in January 2010, however, individuals, corporations and unions can make unlimited donations to independent super PACs supporting particular candidates. Citizens United has reinforced concerns about fairness and equity although in the United States, unrestricted campaign spending is equated with the right to free speech and others defend unlimited contributions. [xvii] Spending by outside groups aligned in support of a specific presidential candidate is estimated to have more than doubled during the 2012 primary and pre-convention period, compared with the equivalent months during the previous presidential contest.[xviii] Inequalities in financial resources can reinforce, in turn, imbalanced media coverage, both through the capacity to purchase paid TV spots and also through reporters’ assessments of candidate credibility during the early stages of primary races.[xix] There are also many residual issues which recur concerning the accuracy and security of the final vote counting process, due to voting machines. State laws governing candidate ballot access are also usually highly restrictive for third party challengers, while the manufactured majority in the Electoral College used in presidential contests penalizes third parties which fail to gain a popular plurality of the vote in every state.[xx] 

Partisan gerrymandering by state legislatures is the norm for redistricting, reducing the number of competitive districts, in contrast to many other democracies which use more impartial judicial or independent electoral or boundary commissions.[xxi] The consequences of partisan gerrymandering have caused concern because of the potential consequences of this policy in exacerbating polarized partisan politics. In particular, during the October 2013 budget stalemate in Congress, a relatively small number of members of the House of Representatives proved intransigent by shutting down the federal government and budget negotiations for three weeks in an abortive attempt to de-fund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).[xxii]  Although ultimately defeated, the effort proved highly damaging for confidence in the American economy and for the U.S.’s international credit rating. One factor contributing towards the rise of Tea Party members has been partisan gerrymandering, allowing Republican-dominated states to draw ultra-safe boundaries which safeguard conservative members and which thereby weaken the electoral incentives for representatives to make broader appeals likely to win support across a broader and more diverse range of constituents.[xxiii] Gerrymandered house districts are not necessarily a fundamental cause for the rise of the Tea Party, which reflects the success of the radical right parties and discontent with more centrist parties found in many other established democracies, but partisan redistricting can be a facilitating condition, by limiting the traditionally moderating effects of majoritarian electoral systems.

In short, American elections continue to face major challenges when administering accurate and fair voter registration and vote counting processes, as well as facing broader structural problems concerning the regulation of campaign funding, ballot access, and redistricting. The Presidential Commission on Electoral Administration, appointed by President Obama in May 2013, was established to examine bipartisan ways to shorten lines at polling places, promote the efficient conduct of elections, and provide better access to the polls for all voters. [xxiv] But the Commission is not designed to address the more deep-rooted and enduring challenges to American electoral integrity.

[i] R. Michael Alvarez, Lonna Rae Atkeson and Thad Hall. 2012. Evaluating Elections: A Handbook of Methods and Standards. New York: Cambridge University Press.
[ii] Richard L. Hasen, 2012. The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown. New Haven: Yale University Press.
[iii] Louis Massicotte, Andre Blais and Antoine Yoshinaka. 2004. Establishing the Rules of the Game. Toronto: University of Toronto Press; Alan Wall, et al. 2006. Electoral Management Design: The International IDEA Handbook. Sweden: International IDEA.
[iv] Electoral Assistance Commission
[v] R. Michael Alvarez and Thad E. Hall. 2006. ‘Controlling democracy: the principal–agent problems in election administration.’ The Policy Studies Journal 34(4):  491-510; Thad E. Hall, J. Quin Monson and Kelly D. Patterson. 2009. ‘The human dimension of elections: How poll workers shape public confidence in elections.’ Political Research Quarterly 62(3):507-522.
[vi] See Chapter 2 in Brian L. Fife. 2010. Reforming the Electoral Process in America. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
[viii] Pew Center on the States. 2012. Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient.
[ix] Michael P. McDonald. ‘2010 general election turnout rates’ available at  See Table 2.6 in Brian L. Fife. 2010. Reforming the Electoral Process in America. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. For a discussion, see Michael P. McDonald and Samuel Popkin. 2001. ‘The Myth of the Vanishing Voter.’ American Political Science Review 95(4): 963-974. Higher estimates (5.3 million) are provided by the Sentencing Project;
[xi] Nate Silver. July 15 2012. ‘Measuring the effects of Voter Identification Laws.’ New York Times.
[xii] Delia Bailey. ‘Federal election fraud cases.’ In R. Michael Alvarez, Thad E. Hall and Susan Hyde. Eds. 2008. Election fraud: detecting and deterring electoral manipulation. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute. For an alternative view see, however, John H. Fund. 2004. Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy. San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books.
[xiii] Lorraine Carol Minnite. 2010. The Myth of Voter Fraud. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
[xiv] See Table 5.1 in Brian L. Fife. 2010. Reforming the Electoral Process in America. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.   
[xv] The Center for Responsive Politics.  
[xvi] If the estimated total costs of the 2000 electoral cycle are calculated in constant prices, taking account of the cumulative rate of inflation (33.3%) from 2000-2012, the equivalent total cost of the 2012 electoral cycle would have been $4,109bn, not $6,285bn.
[xvii] Robert G. Boatright. 2012. ‘The end of the reform era? Campaign finance retrenchment in the United States and Canada.’ The Forum 10(2): 1-30; Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane. 2013. ‘In defense of Citizens United: Why campaign finance reform threatens American democracy.’ Foreign Affairs 92(4): 126-133.
[xviii] The Center for Responsive Politics.
[xix] For a discussion about the broader consequences for American politics, see Lawrence Lessig. 2011. Republic, Lost. New York: Twelve.
[xx] Steven J. Rosenstone, Roy L. Behr and Edward Lazarus. 1996. Third Parties in America: Citizen Response to Major Party Failure. 2nd ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Donald J. Green. 2010. Third Party Matters: Politics, Presidents and Third Parties in American History. New York: Praeger.
[xxi] David Butler and Bruce E. Cain. 1992. Congressional Redistricting: Comparative and Theoretical Perspectives. New York: Macmillan; Michael P. McDonald. 2008.  ‘United States redistricting.’ In Redistricting in Comparative Perspective Eds. Lisa Handley and Bernard Grofman. New York: Oxford University Press.
[xxii] The New York Times estimated that around 42 members of the House of Representatives were affiliated with the Tea Party Caucus, although another 38 members supported tying the budget to attempts to defund the Affordable Care Act.
[xxiii] Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson.  2013. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. New York: Oxford University Press.
[xxiv] The US Presidential Commission on Electoral Administration.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The depth of Ukrainian divisions between east and west?

By Pippa Norris

Current events escalating in Crimea clearly highlight the polarization among political leaders and activists in Ukraine. Developments reflect conflicting visions of the country’s diplomatic ties and regional identities, whether as part of the future European Union or else linked to Russia and the legacy Commonwealth of Independent States.

But how much do the recent events reflect cultural cleavages among ordinary people living in Ukrainian society?

Cross-national survey evidence to examine Ukrainian public opinion is available from the World Values Survey. This study, which now includes more than 90 countries, is a global investigation of socio-cultural and political change. The survey started with the first wave in 1981 and the 6th wave contains surveys from around 60 countries with data gathered from 2010-2014. The World Values Survey (WVS) is a non-profit, academic survey program representing the largest exploration into human values and cultural change around the world (for more details, see

In 2011, during the period when President Viktor Yanukovych was in power for the Party of Regions, the 6th wave study conducted a representative survey of 1,500 Ukrainians, almost equally divided by the language spoken at home into Russian and Ukrainian speakers.  For convenience these groups are labelled ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ Ukrainians. For comparison, the World Values Survey also conducted a similar survey of public opinion in the neighboring states of Poland (#966) in 2012 and Russia (#2,500) in 2011. The comparison allows us to see how far Eastern and Western Ukrainians share similar cultural values with each other on many issues, such as support for democracy or confidence in government, or whether they are closer to the values found in each neighboring state.

Attitudes towards democracy

First, do Ukrainians differ in their attitudes towards democracy? Are Western Ukrainians more enthusiastic for reforms strengthening political rights and civil liberties, while Eastern Ukrainians hanker for the strong state and stability of their authoritarian past?

One way to examine attitudes is through using a 0-10 point scale, where respondents were asked to assess the importance of living in a country which is democratic. Figure 1 illustrates the results showing that there are indeed some modest differences; Western Ukrainians rated the importance of democracy marginally higher than those living in the East. Western Ukrainians are therefore located a bit closer to political attitudes found in Poland, while Eastern Ukrainians express values which are slightly closer to Russian attitudes. But the gaps within Ukraine were extremely modest.

For another measure, people were also asked to use a similar 0-10 point scale to express their satisfaction with the performance of democracy in their own country. Here Ukrainians in both regions proved somewhat critical of how democracy worked in practice, fairly close to the opinions of most Russians, while by contrast Poles proved more satisfied with how democracy worked.

Another way that political attitudes and values can be measured concerns public reactions to statements describing several alternative forms of rule.  Respondents were asked in the survey whether they thought it was good or bad to have a strong leader ‘who does not have to bother with parliaments or elections’, a way of tapping into approval of authoritarian rule without mentioning the ‘d’ word.

Here it appears from Figure 2 that Ukrainians overwhelmingly agree with the desire for strong leadership – and in this both Eastern and Western regions are strikingly similar to Russians.  Almost three quarters of Ukrainians and Russians approve of the idea of strong political leadership, perhaps expressing frustration with the process and outcome of elections. By contrast, citizens in Poland display a stronger commitment to the principles and procedures of liberal democracy by clearly rejecting this form of rule.

Nevertheless public opinion is not wholly clear and consistent; when people were asked whether they approve of having a democratic political system, it appears that public opinion favors this form of government in all the societies under comparison. This pattern is also found elsewhere around the world, where the principles of democracy are widely endorsed, even among citizens living under one party states and authoritarian regimes.

Finally, what about trust and confidence in their government and parliament?  Here again there are some modest contrasts between Western and Eastern Ukrainians, following the expected direction. In 2011, those living in Eastern Ukraine expressed slightly more confidence and trust (+8% points) in the government of President Victor Yanukovych (Party of Regions) than those living in Western Ukraine. This reflects the map of votes cast in the January 17th 2010 presidential contest. On the other hand, only around one fifth of Ukrainians expressed ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot of confidence’ in both their government and parliament, compared with far more Russian confidence in President Putin.


Overall what emerges are the striking cultural similarities rather than differences found in political values among the publics living in Eastern and Western Ukraine. On issues such as relatively strong endorsement of democratic values and ideals, and simultaneous lack of satisfaction with the way that democracy works, Ukrainians in both regions display the typical characteristics of ‘critical citizens’ found in many parts of the world (Norris 2011). Similarly the Ukrainians are not along in the tensions observed between seeking strong leaders and yet also approving of democracy. And the low confidence in core political institutions is also far from unique to this country.

Admittedly there are some small but important contrasts between Western and Eastern Ukrainians, notably in voting support for the Party of the Regions and in confidence in the government of President Yanukovych. Other explorations of the data suggest that indeed Eastern Ukrainians has more confidence in CIS than those living in the East. But the political attitudes which are shared among all Ukrainians are far more evident from this comparison than the values where regions differ. Not surprisingly, although language divides, there are many other aspects of Ukrainian culture and historical traditions which have been shared over the centuries. Even if the leaders and activists are sharply polarized, this evidence suggest that the cultural differences within Ukraine remain fairly modest.

Norris, Pippa. 2011. Democratic Deficit: Critical Citizens Revisited New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Bio: Pippa Norris is Laureate Research Fellow and Professor of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney and  McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Harvard University.

3 March 2014