Katherine Ellena, Senior Global Advisor, Legal

Katherine Ellena

Elections and Public Health Expertise

Katherine Ellena holds a master’s degree in law focused on medical law and bioethics. As part of her research, she focused on ethical decisions public health systems face during times of crisis as well as during the introduction of new medical technology, and has published in various medical and legal journals, including on the regulation of health practitioners. As part of a diploma for graduates in international development from the University of London’s London School of Economics, she has also examined humanitarian ethics during health and security crises. As part of her role as IFES senior global legal advisor, she is currently researching the impact of government emergency powers on anti-corruption measures, and building on her prior work in the development of IFES’ Executive Curriculum in Electoral Leadership (iEXCEL), she is spearheading the development of a new tabletop exercise and simulation focused specifically on elections during epidemics and pandemics. 

Full Biography

As the International Foundation for Electoral Systems' (IFES) senior global legal advisor, Katherine Ellena is responsible for providing strategic leadership and technical assistance to IFES’ work on legal and regulatory frameworks for elections, electoral dispute resolution and electoral integrity. Ellena also manages IFES’ expanding anti-corruption portfolio, which covers issues such as political financing, abuse of state resources and judicial integrity.

Ellena provides direct technical legal assistance to IFES’ field programs globally and has worked with election commissions, tribunals, courts, government interlocutors and civil society in over 20 countries over the past 15 years. This has included direct assistance to legislative and regulatory drafting – including a suite of new election laws in Nepal following the passage of the 2015 Constitution – as well as training of lawyers, commissioners and civil society stakeholders. She also spent two years in New Delhi, India, with the IFES “Gender and Law” program.

Ellena contributes to the development of applied research, tools and resources for IFES’ legal service line, as well as applied research initiatives in areas such as electoral leadership and cybersecurity in elections. She has published various opinion pieces, blogs and academic papers, along with a paper on electoral integrity and election audits, a chapter on measuring effective remedies for fraud and administrative malpractice in the American Bar Association book, International Election Remedies, a guide on the hierarchy of laws for election practitioners implementing legal frameworks for elections, and papers on effective management of elections disputes and violations, cybersecurity in elections, and election annulments. Ellena also recently revamped the Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) module on election dispute resolution and is developing a companion judicial curriculum.

Prior to joining the Center for Applied Research and Learning within IFES, she was a senior program manager with IFES’ Europe and Asia department, responsible for $40 million electoral reform programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This included managing a program supporting the newly established Independent Electoral Complaints Commission in Afghanistan during the 2014 presidential election and a comprehensive electoral support program in Pakistan in the wake of the historic 2013 general elections.

Before joining IFES, Ellena was the acting vice president of the United States New Zealand Council, supporting deeper political, trade and security connections between the U.S. and New Zealand. She was also a research associate with the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School’s Department of Defense Analysis, developing a global counterterrorism oral history archive with both U.S. and international special operations forces.

Prior to this, she was a 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.

Ellena 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 is a member of the Scientific Committee for the Global Network on Electoral Justice, and worked to establish two regional networks of election judges in Europe/Eurasia and Africa.

Ellena 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.



Email Address: 
+1 (202) 350-6700

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