The 2016 U.S. Election Program and Seventh Global Elections Organization Conference
From November 6-10, 2016, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) gathered 550 participants from 90 countries for the 2016 U.S. Election Program (USEP) and Seventh Global Elections Organization Conference (GEO-7). The 2016 USEP and GEO-7 was the largest international gathering of election professionals of the year, with representatives from Albania to Zimbabwe in attendance.
This year’s USEP was the 13th hosted by IFES since 1992. This flagship event brings together election officials, parliamentarians and diplomats from around the world to observe and learn about the U.S. electoral system as well as discuss elections and voting from comparative international perspectives. GEO-7 brought together electoral practitioners and experts to exchange knowledge and share experiences and provided a forum for networking and debate on transparency and accountability in elections.
The USEP began with a discussion of U.S. presidential campaign politics, the role of independent voters and the potential impact of the 2016 election on the Democratic and Republican parties. During the combined USEP and GEO-7 Conference, participants were also offered sessions from IFES’ experts and internationally recognized thought leaders on voter identification, campaign finance, cybersecurity and elections, the electoral rights of internally displaced persons, women’s leadership, election security, social media’s burgeoning role in elections, election technology, and open data and transparency. Additionally, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Senior Vice President for Studies Thomas Carothers offered a keynote address on the uncertain state of global democracy.
Participants also took in an interactive election accessibility simulation meant to reflect the experiences of voters with disabilities. In one mock polling station, participants were able to experience a fully accessible station with mock poll workers who provided assistance that comports with international best practices. Participants were also able to attempt to vote in a mock polling station that was not accessible, highlighting the challenges voters with disabilities face in many places around the world.
The Election Day polling tour was a major highlight of this year’s USEP, taking participants to polling stations in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to witness the American voting process. At these polling stations, participants were able to ask questions of voting precinct personnel and view what IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney called “our celebration of democracy,” as Americans voted in the 2016 elections. You can read more about the Election Day polling tour in the Washington Post and Foreign Policy.
One of the most important aspects of the USEP and GEO-7 Conference was the opportunity for participants to build relationships with colleagues from around the world and exchange best practices and lessons learned. In order to facilitate such dialogue, the USEP and GEO-7 Conference featured evening receptions providing participants the opportunity to mingle, build on existing partnerships and cultivate new relationships. On election night, IFES honored Chafik Sarsar, president of Tunisia’s Independent High Authority for Elections, with the 2016 Joe C. Baxter Award (please click here to learn more). Following the Baxter Award ceremony, participants stayed late into the evening watching the elections results come in.
At the conclusion of the USEP, participants watched Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s concession speech and remarks from U.S. President Barack Obama on the election of Donald Trump. Additionally, the final session of the USEP provided participants the opportunity to reflect on their experiences during the four-day program and discuss their views on the U.S. elections with IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney.
The USEP was immediately followed by the GEO-7 Conference. IFES hosted the GEO-7 in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Electoral Institute of Mexico, International IDEA, the Association of European Election Officials, and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa. Along with Carothers’ keynote address, participants attended stimulating sessions, which featured extensive discussion among panelists and participants, on a variety of hot-button technical election topics.
IFES would like to thank supporting sponsor Smartmatic and patrons Facebook, Google and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy for their generous support.