Election Officials Find Common Ground at GEO Conference

April 3, 2007 - IFES

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Delegates at the fourth Global Electoral Organization Conference forged partnerships and found common ground with colleagues from six continents as they shared ideas about how to ensure that elections are free and fair.

IFES hosted the conference in Washington March 27-29 as part of the democracy-building organization’s 20th anniversary. The conference attracted more than 200 election officials and democracy advocates from 67 countries, providing an opportunity for delegates from Albania to Zambia to discuss the most pressing issues in the field of election administration.

“I think the interactions and also the ability to meet with people who talk more or less the same language of elections was the most important part of the conference,” said Leshele Thoahlane, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission of Lesotho.

The theme for the conference, “Every Vote Counts,” guided the conference’s plenary sessions. Expert panelists presented their ideas on the following topics: tracking political money, electoral technology, the resolution of election disputes, media and elections, professional election associations, voter participation, effective electoral assistance, professional development and information and networking resources.

GEO inspired Jovan Josifovski (right), president of the Macedonian State Election Commission, to host a similar conference in June for Balkan election officials like Kosovo?s Mazllum Baraliu.
Valuable Networks and New Tools

Behind the scenes, the GEO Conference provided a rare networking opportunity for many of the delegates. The conference inspired delegates from Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia to organize their own meeting of Balkan election officials in Skopje next June to discuss common issues such as voter lists, civic education for youth and the financing of political parties.

Jovan Josifovski, president of the Macedonian State Election Commission, attended the GEO Conference for the first time this year. He said he looked forward to returning home so he could share the ideas he gained at GEO with other members of his commission.

Delegates from Latin America said they enjoyed learning more about new election technology. Vendor displays provided a chance for election officials to compare competing systems for themselves.

“It’s rare to find such a non-biased and diverse display of election technology,” said José Thompson, director of the Center for Electoral Promotion and Assistance (CAPEL) in Costa Rica.

Delegates were also able to obtain copies of several professional publications. IFES President Richard Soudriette and Juliana Geran Pilon, a research professor of politics and culture, signed copies of Every Vote Counts, a new book on elections administration that they co-edited. IFES also hosted a book signing with attorney Barry Weinberg, author of The Resolution of Election Disputes: Legal Principles That Control Election Challenges.

Paula J. Dobriansky, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, addressed the delegates on the first day of the conference. Dobriansky told the delegates that their work and partnerships were “instrumental in making democracy work” around the world. The U.S. State Department hosted a reception for the delegates and offered information on how its exchange programs support democracy promotion worldwide.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley paid tribute to IFES President Richard Soudriette during the closing ceremony of the GEO Conference.
Tribute to Soudriette

The GEO Conference was one of the last large events organized under the leadership of Soudriette, who will step down as president of IFES in June after 19 years. At the conference’s closing ceremony, his successor Jean-Pierre Kingsley paid tribute to Soudriette.

Kingsley, who currently serves on IFES’ board and is the former Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, said Soudriette’s leadership has been “subtle yet very effective” and driven by his “deep desire to serve his fellow human beings as best as he could.” He added that the GEO conference exemplified one of Soudriette’s best traits.

“Richard is a gatherer of people,” said Kingsley. “He would rather have one more person at the table than one less.”

Soudriette said he was certain that IFES’ mission to promote democracy would flourish under the leadership of Kingsley, who organized the first GEO Conference in 1999 on behalf of Elections Canada.

“The best part of this job is the opportunity to meet people as wonderful as all of you,” Soudriette told the delegates.

The following organizations co-hosted the GEO Conference: Association of European Election Officials (ACEEEO), U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), Elections Canada (EC), U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC), International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers (IACREOT), IFES (formerly the International Foundation for Election Systems), Federal Electoral Institute of Mexico (IFE), Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), Center for Electoral Promotion and Assistance (IIDH-CAPEL), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (UNEAD).