Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Effective electoral reform - What works?

Do capacity building workshops for EMBs improve skills for polling workers? Do electoral observers deter fraud? Do campaign finance reforms prevent corruption? The international community is spending almost half a billion dollars a year on programs seeking to strengthen elections – but no consensus exists about the effectiveness of alternative types of interventions.


International experts gathered on 2nd September 2015 in San Francisco to identify “What works? Strengthening Electoral Integrity”. The Electoral Integrity Project workshop, held the day before the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting, brought together more than one hundred academics and practitioners in the field of electoral governance and democratization. The event was generously co-sponsored with International IDEA.

“The challenge is to identify the most effective strategies with credible evidence, scientific rigor, and practical uses.” Pippa Norris, Director EIP Project

Elections have now spread globally to all but a handful of countries worldwide. Yet widespread problems harm democratic governance, such as gerrymandering, inaccurate electoral registers, ballot-box stuffing and miscounts, voter intimidation and security defects. Malpractices can undermine faith in the legitimacy of elected authorities, erode public satisfaction with democracy, weaken and electoral turnout. Citizens, groups and opposition parties have fought to protect electoral rights. The international community and domestic stakeholders have invested considerable efforts to strengthen electoral integrity, as a critical component of democratic governance.

But what are the most effective types of strategic interventions?

To address this question, the workshop featured almost three-dozen papers. Research addressed interventions implemented throughout the electoral cycle, from legal reforms, ballot designs, biometric voter registration, and automated redistricting practices, to domestic and international observation initiatives, the transparency of EMBs, technical assistance, and regulating political finance and political advertising. Studies examined diverse cases, from Ireland and Britain to Tunisia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Croatia, Ghana, Malawi and Brazil.

Bridging the gap between academia and the field
During lunchtime, roundtable discussions brought together academics and practitioners. This innovative session created a platform for exchanging ideas and experiences. Leading practitioners included David Carroll (Carter Center), Annette Fath-Lihic (International IDEA), Denis Kadima (Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa), Vasu Mohan (IFES), Seema Shah (International IDEA), Massimo Tommasoli (International IDEA), and Chad Vickery (IFES).


The meeting concluded that collaboration between practitioners and academics needs to be strengthened. Careful assessment of any election project requires the rich practical awareness generated by field experience, and the theoretical knowledge and scientific evidence that guide academic work. Both provide an evaluation framework that is policy relevant, theoretically innovative, and empirically implementable.


Participants agreed on the fundamental necessity of replication to account for context-specific factors – be they cultural, social, political, institutional, economical – that otherwise undermine the generalizability of empirical findings. Related to this, participants also spoke of the need for a long-term approach that integrates past experiences, as well as both field and textbook knowledge. Tools for effective evaluations need to be part of the program design from the outset. Participants concluded that challenges to effective evaluation include partisan interference in assessments, lack of political will, ethical problems in field experiments, organizational resistance to (data) transparency, and conflicting stakeholder and donor priorities.

Looking ahead
Workshop papers are in the process of being reviewed by the organizers with a view to produce an edited book, planned to be published in 2016. The event was the seventh in a series of EIP workshops held since 2012 in Madrid, Harvard, Chicago, Manchester, Montreal, and Sydney, building an international network of scholars and practitioners working on electoral integrity.


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