Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Electoral Integrity across Regime Types - Highlights from the ECPR general conference in Montreal

Margarita Zavadskaya is a PhD candidate at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy (

Holly Ann Garnett is a PhD candidate at McGill University in Montreal, Canada (

Two weeks ago, the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) general conference crossed the Atlantic and came to Montreal for four days of exciting panels, round-tables, lectures and discussions. A section of four panels on “The Hidden Challenges of Electoral Integrity” was organized by 2014 visitors to the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) in Sydney, Margarita Zavadskaya (EUI) and Holly Ann Garnett (McGill). The section was sponsored by the EIP and featured 18 researchers from 4 continents.

The selection of panels touched upon the effects of specific types of electoral malpractice across political regimes. Presenters employed diverse methods, from in-depth case studies and QCA, to survey data analysis and cross-national quantitative techniques. Topics included the gaps between legal framework and electoral performance, the relationship between different types of party systems and electoral rules and the (perceived) quality of elections and electoral process in East Europe and post-Soviet countries, Latin America and South-East Asia. Two related research questions emerged as key to better understanding the challenges of electoral integrity: What are the greatest challenges to electoral integrity faced by various regimes types? What are the causes and consequences of electoral integrity or malpractice in various regime types?

In a panel on electoral integrity in authoritarian regimes, Lee Morgenbesser (Griffith University) provided a systematic overview of the main functions of “authoritarian elections” in South-East Asia and its policy implications. Samuele Dominioni (Science Po) raised the critical question of autocrat’s learning from one election to another through the mechanisms of diffusion. In a similar vein, Margarita Zavadskaya (EUI) used large-N analysis show how electoral malpractice may support or undermine electoral authoritarianism. These papers emphasized that electoral integrity and malpractice can have diverse and unintended consequences for authoritarian regimes.

In established democracies, on the other hand, electoral malpractice can look quite different. In these countries, our examination of fraud is often far more microscopic, as evidenced in Tomáš Lebeda’s paper (Palacký University) on the rate of invalid voting in the Czech Republic. However, there remain substantial threats to electoral integrity. For example, Michael Pal (Ottawa) focused on recent legal reforms aimed to prevent voter fraud in Canada and Australia. Pal’s paper sparked a discussion about the political will for voter suppression in some established democracies, described as a battle to manipulate the shape of the electorate.

This section highlighted that the importance placed on different components of electoral integrity may differ between regimes, countries, and even individuals. In fact, Alessandro Nai (University of Sydney) and Camille Reynolds (Université de Lausanne) addressed the personality and values as an individual-level determinant of perceptions of electoral integrity. Similarly, Marcus Spittler (WZB Berlin Social Science Center) considered the differences between voters’ and experts’ perception of electoral integrity.

These papers sparked many interesting questions about the various components that make up the concept of electoral integrity and how they can reflect different problems across regime types, regions, countries and individuals. The conference sparked many interesting discussions and facilitated future collaborations on electoral integrity across regime types.


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