Democracy in Action in 2018: IFES' Year in Review

This has been a year of transition for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) as we welcomed Tony Banbury as our new leader and bid farewell to former President and CEO Bill Sweeney. Throughout 2018, the IFES team continued to advance its mission to empower citizens to have a voice in the way they are governed.

IFES partnered with election management bodies (EMBs) to support credible, fair and inclusive elections in every corner of the globe:

In March, Nepalis voted for president, marking the final electoral event in the country's post-constitutional transition, which included local, provincial and national elections. IFES worked to promote inclusive electoral reform, strenghten the capacity of the Election Commission of Nepal and civil society organizations (CSOs) and mobilize citizens to participate in democratic politics.

In May, Tunisia held its first municipal elections since the 2011 popular uprising that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Municipalities are the first level of governance in the system of decentralization enshrined in the 2014 Constitution. IFES supported multi-pronged, nationwide, interactive voter and civic education efforts, primarily targeting rural and traditionally marginalized voters.

In July, Mexico held presidential, legislative and local elections. This was the country’s largest Election Day to date, with more than 3,400 local and federal races throughout the country. The presidential election was also the first held under the reformed electoral code enacted in 2014. IFES partnered with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights to identify strengths and weaknesses of the electoral reform to anticipate potential challenges during the 2018 electoral process. As part of a separate collaboration with the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judicial Branch, IFES deployed pre- and post-election assessment missions to examine electoral justice processes.

Also in July, Zimbabwean citizens headed to the polls for general elections, the first elections since the resignation of former President Robert Mugabe after 37 years in office. Throughout this political transition, IFES supported the Zimbabwe Election Commission and CSOs to promote free and fair elections.

In October and November, Georgians went to the polls and elected the country’s first female president, Salome Zurabishvili. This was Georgia’s seventh and last direct presidential election since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Through assistance activities to Georgia’s EMBs, civil society stakeholders and the public, IFES supported the continued development of professional effective election management and equal engagement opportunities for all Georgians.

IFES contributed significant technical and thought leadership using evidence-based approaches to address critical issues and advance innovation in democracy and governance programming:

IFES 2018 publication covers

IFES initiatives around the world aimed to increase the participation and representation of traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women, persons with disabilities, youth, indigenous groups and ethnic and religious minorities:

  • The Election Access Observation Toolkit is a resource that provides disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) and election observer groups with the background and tools to effectively incorporate a disability rights perspective into domestic and international observation missions. The toolkit gathers lessons learned from election access observations conducted by IFES and DPOs in a wide range of country contexts.
  • Understanding that violence against women in elections (VAWE) is embedded in deep-rooted patterns of exclusion and that acts of VAWE are underreported, IFES’ VAWE Framework offers a tool to interpret, document and analyze the presence of VAWE at a national level. Using best practices in field research, the VAWE Framework captures the complexity of VAWE and offers programming recommendations for ending it.

IFES amplified its mission to give every voice a vote by recognizing champions of democracy and informing the policy debate among key stakeholders:

In our Ninth Annual Charles T. Manatt Democracy Awards held in September, IFES honored former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, United States Agency for International Development Administrator Ambassador Mark Green (R), Senator Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney. “Democracy is never given on a silver platter. It must be earned, defended, and nurtured every day, everywhere – in Africa, in Europe, in the United States. There is no alternative to having the freedom we want unless we are prepared to work and sacrifice for it,” said Sirleaf in a moving acceptance speech.

IFES gathered more than 130 participants for “Elections Under Threat? A Global Comparative Analysis of Cybersecurity of Elections,” a discussion about the state of cybersecurity of elections around the world and how election officials can strengthen and protect this critical infrastructure. The event was held in Washington, D.C., on the same day that the United States (U.S.) held general elections in November.

In further engagement with the U.S. Congress, IFES provided testimony to the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on “Reducing the Risk of Mass Atrocities: The Role of Inclusive Electoral Systems Design and Election Institutions in Preventing Violence and Promoting Security for All People” and to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on “Upcoming Elections in the Western Hemisphere: Implications for U.S. Policy.” IFES also submitted written testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on “Democracy Promotion in a Challenging World” and to the House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs on “Electoral Assistance: A Cost-Effective Investment in a More Stable, Prosperous World.”

These are just a few of our accomplishments in 2018. We thank all of our partners and supporters for their efforts to promote sustainable democracy this year and look forward to working with you in 2019.