Inaugural Meeting of the Global Network on Electoral Justice

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Center for Applied Research and Learning Director Chad Vickery and Senior Legal Specialist Katherine Ellena at the inaugural meeting of the Global Network on Electoral Justice.

With elections worldwide becoming more litigious, there is rising pressure on election management bodies (EMBs), tribunals, and courts to resolve politically charged disputes and avoid destabilization of political transitions. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has increasingly seen the credibility of elections and stability of the election environment hinge on the election dispute resolution (EDR) process withstanding sophisticated political manipulation or attempts by political actors to use the courts to legitimize staying in power. Ultimately, the strength of the process can have a profound impact on whether election results are accepted, regardless of other variables in the race. 

Despite this growing pressure, knowledge about key elements of EDR lags behind other parts of the electoral process; many EMBs are unprepared to implement the legal standards necessary for effective EDR; judges may not be equipped to decide complex election cases within a condensed timeframe; and effective systems to manage election cases are woefully absent. In most cases, very little collaboration takes place between EMBs and courts, resulting in a dearth of much-needed knowledge exchange. 

To address these challenges, IFES is working with regional partners to pilot regional electoral jurisprudence networks to facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and professional support among election arbiters. We have also been partnering closely with the Federal Electoral Tribunal of Mexico (TEPJF) to support their initiative of establishing a Global Network of Electoral Justice. The inaugural meeting of this network took place in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from November 10,11, 2017, and was attended by representatives of 30 countries and 12 international organizations. Chad Vickery, director of IFES’ Center for Applied Research and Learning, and Katherine Ellena, senior legal specialist at the Center, attended the event. 

Participants exchanged their experiences tackling a range of challenges, including democratic disaffection, equal political participation, political financing of elections, digital revolution in political life, and the role of electoral jurisdictions. Ultimately, participants acknowledged the value of such an exchange of views and affirmed the establishment of the Global Network. 

Vickery led a discussion on research priorities for the network, observing: “Recent electoral processes in certain countries shine a light on the fact that while democratic institutions may strengthen and professionalize over time, political actors may also become more sophisticated in their ability to undermine democratic institutions and processes.” This is true both between nations (foreign influence in a country’s elections to change or destabilize governance), and within nations (political parties and those in power using vulnerabilities in electoral systems to influence the process for themselves). It is also a challenge for both developed and developing countries. 

Most important, Vickery observed, “While democratic institutions are trying to address these persistent challenges, public confidence in the overall process is actively being undermined by those that benefit from this lack of trust, namely losing candidates, parties, media companies, foreign actors, clientelistic networks, political consultants and technology providers.” 

The stakeholders that benefit from undermining democratic institutions have learned to adapt, innovate and change course to remain influential and effective in electoral events. Those that are working to protect the process and safeguard democratic institutions must learn to do the same. 

Hence, it is hoped that this network can help serve as a peer network, a community of practice to define effective approaches to issues as they arise and provide examples to peers in difficult political situations, on how to judicially resolve universal and difficult questions. 

For videos from the meeting, please click here and here

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