The Hierarchy of Laws: Understanding and Implementing the Legal Frameworks that Govern Elections
All countries have a legal foundation, generally consisting of a founding document, such as a constitution, and the laws passed by the national legislature and other levels of law-making authority. These laws function in a hierarchy, which determines how they rank in authority and how the authority and scope of each level is derived from the constitution. The hierarchical structure varies from country to country, and depends on the form of government. However, there are general principles that are common to most countries and are key to determining the purpose of each piece of law within a legal and regulatory framework, and ultimately enforcing their authority and validity.
This paper is intended as a guide for election practitioners who are interpreting, developing, and implementing legal and regulatory frameworks for elections, and who should understand the hierarchy of these laws. For each level of that hierarchy, this paper sets out the law’s purpose; the actor with drafting responsibility; the source of authority; the actor with enforcement responsibility; the amendment process; and why it has more authority than the form of law one step below it. Understanding these principles of hierarchy can help election management bodies fully execute their legal mandate to develop and enforce rules and procedures that give effect to electoral laws, and ultimately protect fundamental civil and political rights.