The credibility of elections, acceptance of election results, and stability of the election environment increasingly hinge on the effective resolution of disputes and violations throughout the electoral cycle. However, while there are multiple networks for election administrators to have peer-to-peer discussions on election management issues, most election judges and arbiters who are dealing with these disputes and violations lack peer support. Latin America is currently the only region with an established network of arbiters meeting annually to discuss specific election dispute resolution issues, drawing directly from election cases in their own jurisdiction.
To address this gap, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems is working to establish peer networks in Europe and Eurasia and Africa, supported by the United States Agency for International Development under the Global Elections and Political Transitions program. Regional knowledge exchange allows judges and election commissioners to discuss best practices and share comparative examples of how other countries deal with specific categories of complaints and disputes.
The inaugural meeting of the Europe and Eurasia Electoral Jurisprudence Working Group took place in Vilnius, Lithuania, on September 5th, on the sidelines of the Association of European Election Officials General Conference. Twenty-seven judges and commissioners, including 17 women, took part from the Western Balkans region, including Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with participation from Georgia as an observer, expert peers (judges and commissioners) from the Philippines and Mexico, along with representatives from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Venice Commission.
Participants discussed common challenges around maintaining independence, while at the same time dealing with procedural challenges unique to election cases, such as short deadlines and poor evidence. Several participants noted that they had never been part of such a platform but that it was incredibly necessary for the region, particularly as challenges become more complex, such as the rising use and misuse of social media in election campaigns.
A number of judges and commissioners proactively endorsed the value of such discussions and asked that they be sustained on an annual basis. Representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina offered to host a second meeting of the electoral jurisprudence working group next year. They also floated the idea of a rotating chair and encouraged participants to ultimately find resources to cover travel to make the network sustainable over the longer term.