IFES CEO Bill Sweeney’s Remarks: 6th Annual Conference of Election Management Bodies in Georgia
Dear Colleagues, it is a great pleasure to share the podium today with so many distinguished experts in the field of elections, many of whom I’ve known for a long time. As we gather here in Kakheti for this 6th annual meeting of Election Management Bodies to share experiences and best practices I take note of the diversity and breadth of representation I see here in the room, which is attributable to Georgian electoral leadership under Chair Tamar Zhvania, as well as to the good work being done by the ICPS and Matt Gokhool.
It is very appropriate to be here in Georgia to discuss the topic of integrity in the electoral process, given the efforts of the Georgian Central Election Commission in this field and the commitment they have made to developing and demonstrating the mechanisms for assuring inclusive, transparent electoral cycle.
As we know the legitimacy of an election depends on the actual or perceived integrity of the electoral process. If citizens and candidates believe the electoral process is defective or dishonest, they may not accept the outcome. If the process is flawed and dishonest democracy loses out.
IFES has developed an electoral integrity portfolio that defines international standards and best practices and builds on nearly thirty years of real-world experience in strengthening the effectiveness of election management bodies (EMBs) and organizing credible elections. To better understand election integrity issues, pinpoint stakeholder accountability, and develop effective risk mitigation strategies, IFES has developed a conceptual framework that distinguishes between systemic manipulation, fraud, and malpractice.
By systemic manipulation we mean the use of domestic legal provisions and/or electoral rules and procedures that run counter to widely accepted democratic principles and international standards, and that purposefully distort the will of voters. Fraud is understood to mean deliberate wrong-doing by election officials or other electoral stakeholders, which distorts the individual or collective will of the voters.1 And, malpractice involves a breach by a professional of his or her relevant duty of care, resulting from carelessness or neglect. The benefits of distinguishing these types of election integrity issues will be addressed by one of my colleagues during a subsequent panel.
IFES programming increases electoral integrity by working with election administrators and other stakeholders to strengthen their ability to proactively combat malpractice and electoral fraud through risk assessments and election integrity management plans; develop effective election complaint adjudication systems; and improve and enforce campaign finance regulations.
Recognizing that each environment requires a unique approach, IFES works with key in-country stakeholders - including government institutions, political parties, civil society groups, media and scholars - in a collaborative, holistic manner to support transparency and accountability.
Here in Georgia, working under funding provided by the United States Agency for International Development, IFES first conducted an election integrity assessment back in 2014, producing a comprehensive report looking at 16 key categories of electoral processes which involved meeting with stakeholders across the public and private spectrum in the country. My IFES colleagues will be speaking more on this during this event. In addition to specific recommendations shared for improving overall integrity in and transparency of the process, one of the outcomes was development of an Election Integrity Management Plan together with the CEC. I know Madam Chairwoman Zhvania is going to speak about this ongoing effort too, but let me just say that IFES has been impressed at the fervor with which the CEC has embraced the effort.
I am sure our time at this important event will prove to be a remarkable learning and sharing opportunity for best practices in electoral integrity and election management, and I truly look forward to engaging you individually to listen and to share experiences and ideas. I wish you all success in your work and a robust discussion over the next two days.