IFES’ Assessment Evolves, Maps Electoral Vulnerabilities

Publication Date: 
18 Dec 2013

One of IFES’ core goals is to empower electoral stakeholders to meet international standards for democratic elections by deterring, detecting and mitigating challenges to election integrity. The first step toward meeting this goal is identifying fraud, malpractice and systemic manipulation of the electoral process.

To this end, IFES has developed an assessment methodology that provides election management bodies (EMBs) with the necessary information to target vulnerabilities in election administration and to develop fraud and malpractice control plans.

IFES Regional Director for Europe and Asia Chad Vickery and Senior Research and Development Officer Erica Shein answer some questions about this groundbreaking tool.

What is the Electoral Integrity Assessment?

Vickery: The Electoral Integrity Assessment is a review of a country’s election-related vulnerabilities, conducted by electoral experts using an innovative IFES assessment methodology. Use of this unique IFES tool empowers EMBs and their partners to develop fraud control plans and design tools to deter, detect and mitigate election vulnerabilities.

How was this tool developed? Is it the first of its kind?

Shein: The methodology – created to fill a major gap in efforts to combat systemic manipulation, malpractice and fraud in elections – has been in development since 2012. It is the first of its kind. We were inspired by the IFES White Paper Series on Electoral Fraud. This series introduced key distinctions between election fraud, malpractice and systemic manipulation, and outlined a new fraud mitigation approach for EMBs and their partners. Based on these papers, we solicited the input of electoral experts working around the world to develop a comprehensive assessment and scoring methodology.

The assessment toolkit contains the following information:

  • Relevant definitions and distinctions
  • Detailed assessment process (including desk research, logistics and selection of the assessment team)
  • Interview guide with scoring instructions
  • Guidelines for determining vulnerabilities and impact of fraud, malpractice and systemic manipulation
  • Assessment report templates, including illustrative graphs/charts for modeling vulnerabilities
  • Illustrative assessment budget and scopes of work for assessment team members


How is the assessment implemented?

Shein: For each assessment, a team of carefully-selected election professionals with relevant country and topical expertise is trained on the methodology. Each team includes one or more members who have reached advanced qualification levels by participating in previous training sessions and in-country assessments. After conducting extensive desk research, the assessment team is deployed to the field to hold in-person consultations with a range of key stakeholders (including the EMB, security officials, government, civil society, media, political parties, candidates, donors and academics).

Using guidelines developed in the methodology, the team determines whether each relevant electoral process category (out of a total of 18 possible categories) is susceptible to systemic manipulation, malpractice or fraud (or more than one). Based on this determination, each category is assessed for relevant vulnerabilities. The categories are further divided into sub-categories, which form the basic unit of analysis. Sub-categories are scored across several dimensions. Final results are presented in a series of graphs that highlight the most pressing vulnerabilities.

After conducting the risk analysis and generating relevant recommendations, the team produces a comprehensive report that outlines vulnerabilities and possible impacts of fraud, malpractice and systemic manipulation, and provides donor and key stakeholder briefings. The methodology ensures the report and briefings highlight electoral process areas most vulnerable to fraud and malpractice, giving donors and election managers a roadmap to reform. IFES collaborates closely with the EMB to ensure election managers maintain ownership and responsibility for implementation of recommendations generated by the assessment.

Once the electoral integrity assessment is complete, IFES can support election managers to develop and implement a robust fraud and malpractice plan to deter, detect and mitigate identified vulnerabilities.

The assessment was first implemented in Afghanistan and then in Pakistan. What were the lessons learned from these experiences? How has the assessment evolved as a result?

Vickery: The assessment tool has been modified to incorporate lessons from these pilot efforts. For example, following the Afghanistan assessment, we edited the guidelines document to contain call-out boxes on lessons learned about the desk study, composition of the assessment team, pre-deployment training and category scoring. We intend for the tool to continue to improve and evolve based on the results of each assessment.

Interestingly, although overall country scores are not meant to be comparative in nature (that is, we do not establish a comparable score for each country like the Freedom House Democracy Index or Transparency International’s Corruption Index), we are finding that this assessment tool identifies specific patterns of vulnerability. Once several assessments are finalized, I believe we will be able to identify a handful of vulnerability models for comparative purposes.

Some countries will be highly susceptible to systemic manipulation. For example, the United States because it permits districting by political bodies. Other countries will be extremely vulnerable to fraud. For example, Afghanistan, which suffers from pervasive conflict, insecurity and high levels of public acceptance of corruption. A third set of countries will be most susceptible to malpractice. For example, in our Pakistan analysis, we are finding that management of the election process in specific constituencies is most problematic, despite the extensive legal and regulatory framework.

Once these vulnerability models are fully identified, we will have a new body of data available for analysis that can help us better understand how fraud, malpractice and systemic manipulation vulnerabilities impact election integrity. This learning will inform the recommendations we make and give us tools to measure how successful these corrective measures are in similar circumstances.

This tool can be used globally. Where will it be used next?

Vickery: We are currently exploring the possibility of conducting electoral integrity assessments in other countries, such as Kenya and Sri Lanka. The assessment methodology offers stakeholders the opportunity to prioritize election reforms and process improvements, and address them with innovative, practical tools.

We believe there will be broader usage of this methodology as more people become aware of its utility.

How has the assessment been received by stakeholders?

Vickery: The Electoral Integrity Assessment Methodology has been well received by academics, election professionals and donors.

As a result of the Afghanistan assessment, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) produced and distributed a “Fraud Mitigation Strategy” document. The document provided an excellent overview of aspects of the election process and how they will be managed by the IEC. With additional detail, the plan could become an actionable and measurable planning tool to address specific fraud and malpractice vulnerabilities for the 2014 elections.

Additional recommendations on the establishment and implementation of an effective electoral complaints adjudication process have been incorporated into the United Nations’ “Technical Advisory Service to the Electoral Dispute Resolution Body” project and are currently being implemented by IFES in support of the 2014 and 2015 electoral cycles in Afghanistan.