Election Watchdogs: Transparency, Accountability, and Integrity

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In recent decades, a range of challenges to electoral integrity have come to light in both developing and developed democracies. Many actors – scholars, technical assistance providers, and the institutions involved in administering elections – have focused on transparency (the public right and access to information) as essential for improving the quality of elections and ultimately democratic governance. The forthcoming book from Oxford University Press, Election Watchdogs: Transparency, Accountability, and Integrity, contains a series of essays by international scholars and practitioners that probe this subject. Co-editor Pippa Norris argues in her introductory chapter that transparency must be accompanied by both accountability (“identifying the underlying reasons for any incidents of electoral maladministration and responsibility for any flaws that occur”) and compliance (“the use of incentives and sanctions”) mechanisms to be truly effective. The essays in the book focus on marshaling evidence to support this thesis, with an emphasis on upward accountability to the international community (including through election observation and internationally-supervised post-election audits), horizontal accountability among state actors, and downward accountability from election management bodies to civil society.

Chapter 5 on “Election Audits: Principles and Practices,” authored by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in collaboration with Democracy International, probes recent examples of high-stakes and high-profile post-election audits. The authors argue that audits may increase the credibility of the final outcome in a contentious election and ensure that results are accepted. Poorly-administered audits, however, can actually undermine these objectives, and can be costly and time-consuming endeavors. Accordingly, the focus of this chapter is on the most important considerations for conducting an audit and building trust in the election outcome. Six foundational principles for large-scale post-election investigations are highlighted: domestic ownership of the audit process; pre-determination of standards and procedures; appropriate training of audit actors and consistent application of the rules; clear and widely-understood rules for gathering and maintaining evidence; a reasonable and balanced right of appeal; and external observation of all audit processes. The chapter also considers metrics for successful elections in countries riven by conflict and beset by enormous humanitarian challenges, such as Afghanistan and Haiti, where long-term democratic resilience may have been undermined when political solutions were applied to electoral crises.