About us

There is widespread and growing concern that elections are commonly marred by problems such as limits on equal ballot access for opposition parties, pro-government media bias, maladministration in electoral registers, and vote-rigging at the count. New challenges surrounding campaign finance, the regulation of political broadcasting, online voting, and voter registration arise in long-established democracies such as the United States and Europe. Elsewhere, such as Kenya and Thailand, even minor irregularities about voter registration or unfair ballot access have sometimes triggered instability, riots, and deadly violence. As elections have spread to almost every country around the globe, including many non-democracies, the issue of electoral integrity has catalyzed a growing body of research among both the academic and policymaking communities. This has started to explore many issues, focusing upon three main questions:
  • When do elections meet international standards of electoral integrity? 
  • What happens when elections fail to do so?
  • And what can be done to mitigate these problems? 
Alternative concepts have often been used to understand these questions. Negative labels are common, such as ‘electoral malpractice’, ‘flawed elections’, ‘manipulated contests’, and ‘electoral fraud’. In positive terms, well-run contests are described as ‘credible’, ‘acceptable’, ‘genuine’, or the standard rhetoric of ‘free and fair’. 

In EIP, the core notion of ‘electoral integrity’ refers to agreed international principles and standards of elections, applying universally to all countries worldwide throughout the electoral cycle, including during the pre-electoral period, the campaign, and on polling day and its aftermath. Conversely, 'electoral malpractice' refers to violations of electoral integrity.

A brief project summary is available for download and printing (PDF) at the bottom of this page.  


Aims

The core aims of the study are three-fold: to sharpen our concepts, typologies, and evidence of electoral integrity; to document and analyze the underlying conditions leading to common flaws and electoral malpractices; to understand what consequences flow from these problems; and finally to evaluate effective policy interventions and 'what works' to improve electoral standards. 

Support

The project has been generously supported by many agencies, especially the $2.6m Kathleen Kitzpatrick Laureate Award by the Australian Research Council, as well as by the University of Sydney, International IDEA, and at Harvard University by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the Committee on Australian Studies, and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Partnerships have been developed to collaborate with many multilateral agencies, including International IDEA, the Organization of American States, Global Integrity, UNDP, the Carter Center, UN-EAD, and A-WEB. The five year project was launched in Madrid in July 2012. The team of researchers are based at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney.

Research design

The research design uses multiple methods, both quantitative and qualitative, and multilevel analysis. The project includes several data collection components: 
  1. Administering the global expert survey of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity; 
  2. Gathering Public Perceptions of Electoral Integrity in more than 40 societies from the World Values Survey; 
  3. Creating a macro-level dataset, integrating PEI and WVS with existing cross-national and time-series evidence; 
  4. Evaluating specific technical assistance programs using field experiments and other related methods.
The  full research design used for the Electoral Integrity Project is designed to measure and compare expert and public perceptions of electoral integrity, to assess their macro-level impacts, and to determine effective policy interventions, understood as a sequential process. 

(i) Indicators: Monitoring electoral integrity at expert and mass levels

The project has developed indicators of the perceived quality of electoral practices in each country, understood as a way to monitor and compare levels electoral integrity around the world. Two instruments are used.

The Expert Survey on Perceptions of Electoral Integrity follows the methods used for many similar projects, such as the CHES expert survey of political party ideologies and policy positions.[6] Expert surveys have also been employed to monitor the position of newspapers and broadcasting channels.[7]  This approach has also been widely employed to construct indicators of 'good governance'. The instrument used for PEI has been developed in conjunction with Andrew Reynolds and Jorgen Elklit. 

Public opinion has been monitored and analyzed from the World Values Survey, which includes a new battery on electoral integrity in several countries contained in the 6th wave (2010-2012). This source provides data monitoring mass perceptions of electoral practices, for comparison with expert evaluations.[8] Other secondary data can also be analyzed, such as items on electoral integrity already available from existing national and cross-national public opinion surveys.

Robustness checks on the expert and public opinion surveys are available from comparison of the results with the other independent datasets, such as NELDA, IEM, and QED, drawing upon electoral observer and human rights reports. 

(ii) Macro-level impacts

If elections fail, how and when does this matter? And what triggers these problems? This component draws upon and updates my existing cross-national time-series dataset [9]. This evidence is used to monitor the causes and consequences of electoral malpractices on multiple dependent variables, including public satisfaction with democracy, confidence in political institutions, levels of party competition, indices of regime stability, the frequency of political protests, levels of violent conflict, and patterns of democracy and democratization. 

(iii) Micro-level project evaluation studies

Finally, what is to be done? In particular, what is the impact of policy interventions designed to strengthen electoral integrity? Here field experiments and observational correlation studies are used to evaluate the effectiveness of several alternative common strategies.

This includes attempts to improve electoral governance and the administrative capacity of EMBs, regulatory policies designed to regulate campaign finance and political broadcasting, as well as initiatives designed to strengthen transparency, through crowdsourcing technologies, election watch NGOs, and journalist training for election coverage.

During the final stage of the project, EIP is in the process of collaborating with several multilateral organizations and with national stakeholders to evaluate selected projects and programs. The interventions focus upon four areas: (a) political finance regulations (MPT); (b) the impact of international and domestic monitors; (c) the role of election management capacity building and training programs (ELECT);  (d) ways to deter contentious elections and electoral violence (SAFE).

Multilevel comparisons

Thus once all components of this project are eventually completed, the design allows analysts to triangulate these building blocks in each country and across global regions by comparing indicators, impacts and interventions:
  • The expert survey (PEI) and the World Values Survey (WVS) estimating the perceived quality of elections in each country, at mass and expert levels, as proxy indicators of de facto practices. (INDICATORS) 
  • Macro-level indicators estimating many variables in each society, notably satisfaction with democracy, confidence in political institutions, party competition, regime stability, political protest, violent conflict, democracy and democratization (IMPACTS); and
  • Projects and programs designed to strengthen integrity (INTERVENTIONS). 
The challenge in developing this design is to make sure that there is consistency or functional equivalence across the levels.

Conclusions

The research design provides a compelling logic and it allows many theoretical propositions to be analyzed concerning the inter-relationships among instruments,  impacts and interventions.

Notably, by examining the first component, analysts can identify which countries have elections which fail to reflect international standards.  

To determine their broader political consequences, the perceived quality of elections can be compared with a range of macro-level indices, such as measures of citizen’s confidence in the political system and levels of internal conflict. 

The evaluations of technical assistance focuses upon assessing the impact of specific programs.  Surveys of participants, RCTs, cross-national datasets,  and detailed narrative case studies help to integrate and demonstrate the underlying processes in several selected programs. 

Any of these components are worthwhile stand-alone projects, but in combination they provide an exceptionally powerful and original approach to understanding challenges of electoral integrity and malpractice.


[1] http://www.cartercenter.org/peace/democracy/des.html

[2] http://www.comparativeconstitutionsproject.org/

[3] http://www.partylaw.leidenuniv.nl/

[4] https://manifesto-project.wzb.eu/

[5] https://files.nyu.edu/mrg217/public/elections.html

[6] http://www.unc.edu/~gwmarks/data_pp.php

[7] See Gabor TOKA and Marina POPESCU

[8] Pippa Norris. ‘Are there universal standard of electoral integrity?’ www.electoralproject.com

[9] www.pippanorris.com

Acknowledgments

The project is based at the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. It has been generously supported by many agencies, including the Australian Research Council, the University of Sydney, International IDEA, and at Harvard University by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. The project has currently been funded to run for five years from mid-2012 to end-2016.  

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