Second Plenary Meeting of the Global Network on Electoral Justice

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Katherine Ellena and other panelists

Over the past year, 65 elections have taken place – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe – and most were contentious, demonstrating the fact that there is rising pressure on election management bodies, tribunals and courts to resolve politically charged disputes and avoid destabilization of political transitions.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has been working with regional partners to pilot regional electoral jurisprudence networks to facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and professional support among election arbiters. The first of these meetings took place in Vilnius, Lithuania, in September 2018, supported by the United States Agency for International Development under the Global Elections and Political Transitions Program.

Chad Vickery speaks during the event.

We have also been partnering closely with the Federal Electoral Tribunal of Mexico to support their Global Network on Electoral Justice initiative. The network’s inaugural meeting took place in November 2017, and the Second Plenary Assembly was held in Cancun, Mexico, on December 3-4, 2018, with over 29 countries and 24 international organizations and universities in attendance. Chad Vickery, director of IFES’ Center for Applied Research and Learning, and Katherine Ellena, legal advisor at the Center, attended the event.

“Adjudicators of election disputes sit at the center of critical efforts to mitigate and manage disputes and challenges to election integrity,” said Vickery during the opening session. “Often asked to bring credibility and closure to processes which may not actually be credible, that are flawed in many ways and politically contentious.”

Ellena moderated a discussion on mechanisms for the inclusion of political minorities, focused particularly on indigenous candidates, persons with disabilities and independent candidates.

“The rising tide of independent candidates is an interesting topic for this group to consider, both in terms of what it means with respect to disaffection with existing party structures, but also research that suggests that independent candidates strengthen democracy by reducing corruption and reinvigorating citizens’ interest in politics. Given the increase in independent candidates, it is important to consider what this means for members of marginalized groups who want to run for office.” – Katherine Ellena

Ellena also observed that the electoral and political rights of indigenous persons and persons with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities were particularly in need of closer examination and support. Justice Barreiro from Colombia noted that affirmative action measures for political minorities could be an important mechanism to support peace processes and transitional elections, and that affirmative action measures “are a correction for historic disadvantages, not a tool for turning a minority into a majority or tyranny.”

"While there is an inherent danger of politicization that arises when the judiciary gets deeply involved in election cases, the right to redress is fundamental, and it would be unwise to suggest that courts should not be involved when issues are considered too political. Rather, through this global network, we need to develop a process that leverages the collective knowledge that we have in this room to help adjudicators effectively, efficiently and fairly resolve electoral complaints.” – Chad Vickery