Katherine Ellena, Senior Global Legal Advisor; Director, Center for Anti-Corruption and Democratic Trust

Katherine Ellena

As the International Foundation for Electoral Systems' (IFES) senior global legal advisor, and Director of IFES’ new Center for Anti-Corruption and Democratic Trust, Katherine Ellena provides strategic leadership to IFES’ work on the rule of law, justice, anti-corruption and electoral integrity.

As part of this role, Ellena provides direct technical assistance to IFES’ field programs worldwide, and has worked with government ministries, election commissions, oversight bodies, anti-corruption commissions, tribunals, courts, government interlocutors and civil society in over 25 countries over the past 17 years.

Recognizing the fundamental role that electoral and political corruption plays in undermining democracy, in 2021 Ellena helped conceptualize and launch IFES’ Center for Anti-Corruption and Democratic Trust, which is focused on improving the ability of democracies to deliver for all people through cross-sectoral anti-corruption initiatives that address the global democratic trust deficit.

In addition to overseeing IFES’ global anti-corruption and governance portfolio, Ellena contributes to the development of applied research, tools and resources for IFES’ legal and anti-corruption service line and has also led applied research initiatives in areas such as electoral leadership and cybersecurity in elections. This has included the development of scenarios and tabletop exercises for IFES’ executive curriculum in electoral leadership (iEXCEL). Research for IFES includes papers on: election investigations; public sector corruption; election postponements; electoral integrity and election audits; measuring effective remedies for fraud and administrative malpractice; a guide on the hierarchy of laws for election practitioners; effective management of elections disputes and violations; cybersecurity in elections; and election annulments.

Before joining IFES, Ellena was the acting vice president of the United States New Zealand Council, research and faculty associate with the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School’s Department of Defense Analysis and diplomat with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade focused on politics and security in Southeast Asia, which included two years with the New Zealand Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she helped manage New Zealand government responses to both a natural disaster and a terrorist attack.

Ellena is a special advisor to the Standing Committee on Election Law at the American Bar Association and a member of the Scientific Committee for the Global Network on Electoral Justice. She holds a master’s degree in law with honors from the University of Canterbury, bachelor’s degrees in law and philosophy from the University of Canterbury, and a diploma for graduates in international development from the University of London’s London School of Economics.

She was admitted as a barrister and solicitor to the High Court of New Zealand in 2004 and is a member of the American Bar Association, International Bar Association and New Zealand Law Society.



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