Event participants on a polling site tour in Washington, DC. Rob Betz/IFES
The IFES 2010 U.S. Election Program—which brought together more than 200 election officials, parliamentarians and diplomats from around the world—fostered a fruitful exchange of ideas on electoral practices. The participants learned about a unique American electoral experience as well as each other’s democratic systems and in the process created and strengthened professional relationships.
Every continent and more than 40 countries were represented in the program. The countries included Armenia, Georgia, Gabon, Nigeria, Mexico, Argentina, the Philippines, Australia, Jordan and Egypt. Upon the conclusion of the three day event, most participants said they had gained a greater understanding of other countries’ election systems and the different approaches to free, fair and transparent elections.
“The Central Election Commission (CEC) of Armenia highly values the organization of these events because they provide the opportunity to different experts from different electoral management bodies to share their experience of election administration and other electoral issues. The program was very useful as the exchanges highlighted certain practices that could be implemented in Armenia,” said the Chairman of the CEC Garegin Azarian.
The three-day program centered around the U.S. elections to provide a common example for the debate of different aspects of the election. As a result, IFES and local election officials organized tours of polling stations in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland. At least three polling stations were visited by each of the participants. Many of them were taken aback by the fact that representatives of each political party were absent from the polls to observe the proceedings. Another widely-stated remark was one of surprise at that the lack of security forces at the polls. Many of the participants from Africa were also impressed by the fact that campaigning could take place just outside of the 50 foot “no electioneering” zone from polling stations in the District. Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, chairman of Ghana’s Electoral Commission, commented that campaigning has to stop at least 24 hours before the election in most parts of Africa as a means to deter election violence between political parties.
A number of expert panels on topics that affect all election management bodies were held during the program. These topics include voter registration, election violence and the use of technology in elections. The speakers on these panels provided their expert perspective and encouraged questions and debate among participants on the different approaches to elections management. Often, the participants found opportunity to break into smaller groups to discuss the issues among themselves.
One of the speakers on these panels was Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal from the Philippines Commission on Elections (COMELEC). Commissioner Larrazabal gave insight into the Philippines’ highly successful efforts to encourage the youth to vote. The innovative and effective tactics employed by the COMELEC included helping a very popular girl band record a catchy song explaining how to fill out a ballot, having commissioners make appearances on late night talk shows and using Facebook and Twitter to disseminate information. Commissioner Lazzarabal said the point of the campaigns was to make voting hip.
On the evening of Monday night, IFES held a reception to offer the 2010 Joe C. Baxter Award to Dr. Afari-Gyan. The award is given annually to professionals whose work epitomizes the mission of IFES—to promote citizen participation, transparency and accountability in political life and civil society. The Honorable Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, presented the award to the Chairman of Ghana’s electoral commission.
In his remarks preceding the presentation, Ambassador Carson said: “Many here tonight have worked tirelessly to advance the simple notion that people everywhere should have the right to participate in shaping the future of their own communities and countries. This is important work, but those who do it, especially those who do it in transitional societies or emerging democracies, do not receive the recognition they deserve. But tonight is different. This is one of those rare moments when we can honor a leader in the democracy community with the annual Joe C. Baxter Award from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.”
On the evening of Election Day, IFES and the Ambassador of Sweden to the United States Jonas Hafström welcome participants and other distinguished guests to the House of Sweden in the Georgetown waterfront to co-host an event with IFES. Television screens were placed all over the reception area so that guests could watch the returns while mingling and enjoying hors d'œuvres.
The 2010 U.S. Elections Program came to a close with a tour of the U.S. Capitol. It was a fitting place to end as the Capitol is the nucleus of the American democratic system.
“It was an honor to host such distinguished guests for the U.S. Election Program. Their insight into the electoral process and their willingness to share their countries’ experience with the other participants made the event a success. We look forward to continue our collaboration with these experts and to continue promoting ties between them that can help them further their countries’ democratic systems,” says Bill Sweeney, IFES president and CEO.
On Tuesday, 2 November, voters in the United States will elect members of the 112th United States Congress, including all members of the United States House of Representatives and almost one-third of the United States Senate.
IFES will convene experts and decision makers on this occasion as an opportunity to discuss common issues in electoral administration from comparative international experiences.
Over the course of three days, participants will learn about key concepts of the U.S. electoral system and experience democracy in action as they tour polling places throughout metropolitan Washington, DC on Election Day. The program will offer traditional lecture presentations as well as call upon delegates to play an active role, encouraging that they draw from and share their own experiences.
Subjects covered will include:
- Use of new media in political campaigns
- Modernizing voter registries
- Out-of-country voting
- Technology used to support the electoral process
- The media’s coverage of elections
- International perspectives on the U.S. electoral system
Also, as a hallmark of this special program, IFES will provide visitors and members of the diplomatic community in Washington, DC with insightful political analysis during a morning briefing on Election Day. Several educational, social and cultural events are also planned, including a tour of the U.S. Capitol.
Participation in the U.S. Election Program is by invitation-only and requires that participants pay a registration fee to cover the cost of meals, special events and program materials. Further, the program is limited to professionals representing electoral management organizations, national and foreign government, internationally recognized organizations engaged in democracy and governance initiatives and sponsoring organizations.