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ELECT: Election management


Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) are the front-line agencies concerned with administering elections. Organizational structures, functions and responsibilities vary in each country according to their mandate but electoral officials are typically the core actors concerned with establishing electoral procedures within the legal framework, overseeing ballot access and registering parties and candidates, regulating political broadcasts and campaign finance, training poll workers and setting up balloting facilities, registering electors and administering voting procedures, overseeing the ballot tabulation process,  declaring the results, and adjudicating disputes.  

EMBs are the central agencies at national level concerned with electoral governance, which has been usefully defined as: “…the interaction of constitutional, legal, and institutional rules and organizational practices that determine the basic rules for election procedures and electoral competition; organize campaigns, voter registration, and election-day tallies; and resolve disputes and certify results.”[i] 

To strengthen these functions, the Electoral Integrity Project has worked in partnership with the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB) to launch ELECT. This research gathered information about three issues:

i. What are the existing skills and capacities of mid-level staff employed in a wide range of electoral authorities around the world?

ii. What professional training is needed by election officials?

iii. How can development agencies respond to these needs through capacity-building initiatives?

The structure and organization of EMBs 

Previous research comparing these bodies has focused on understanding their optimal organizational structure. The international community usually recommends that administrative agencies should be established independently at arms length from the executive, in their appointment, accountability, and roles. This is believed to strengthen integrity more effectively than those where electoral officials are civil servants located government departments, such as Ministries of the Interior, and thus potentially more vulnerable to undue political pressures from the governing party holding executive office.[ii]  

Nevertheless organizational autonomy does not necessarily guarantee that officials have the technical, human and financial resources to run elections well. A growing body of academic research has started to examine the structure, roles, and powers of electoral authorities, to evaluate whether administrative autonomy is indeed important, as widely assumed, generating mixed results, as well as exploring the impact of EMBs on citizen's trust and confidence in the electoral authorities. [iii] 

Moreover, beyond EMBs, electoral governance can also involve officials employed in a complex range of administrative agencies, including regional and local government staff, the related institutions of parliamentary oversight and judicial redress,  courts responsible for dispute resolution and adjudication, campaign broadcasting and political finance regulatory agencies, as well as organizations in civil society (including political parties, the independent media, and election watch NGOs).   It remains unclear from the research literature whether it is more effective and efficient to concentrate resources within a single central agency which is responsible for multiple joined-up functions during elections, or whether it is better to have horizontal forms of power-sharing across multiple separate agencies, and vertical forms of decentralization involving local, regional and national bodies, providing checks and balances but at the potential risk of fragmentation, lack of cohesion, and blurred lines of responsibility.

The Capacity of Electoral Bodies

Even less is known with any certainty about the roles, capacities, and effectiveness of electoral officials employed by EMBs and the impact of capacity building programs supported by the international community

Research in public sector management has started to examine the capacity of electoral officials and their performance within the UK and US.[iv]  Evidence from the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey suggests that in several newer democracies, such as Lithuania, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, experts assess the performance of the electoral authorities highly, in terms of their impartiality, fairness, transparency and efficiency. But according to these criteria, experts assess electoral authorities more critically in many contests elsewhere, especially  in many weak states, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan, with a recent history of deep-rooted conflict, fragile institutions and poor rule of law; in poorer developing societies like Mozambique and Angola with limited resources and a poorly qualified public sector workforce; and in states with repressive regimes and a deeply problematic record of respecting human rights, such as Belarus, Syria, and Equatorial Guinea.

The research design for ELECT therefore focused on the following.

The supply of training: the organizational survey of 35 EMBs

This survey was conducted in 35 diverse EMBs worldwide. The ELECT organizational survey drew upon previous questionnaires of public administration, including items gauging the politicization, professionalization, openness, and impartiality of staff, using the following types of blocks:

· Socio-economic characteristics of participants: age, gender, educational level, economic situation, work status (employment type), employment history, length of current employment and seniority, family situation, civil status, …

· Work ethos, values and attitudes: commitment to the professional values of transparency, impartiality, transparency, and inclusiveness, support and perception of public service, work ethos and professional values, evaluation of EMB capacity, …

· Experience and evaluation of training: experience of training, satisfaction with the form and content of training, perceived effects on work skills, assessment of skills and training needs and priorities,

· Knowledge and interest of electoral processes: factual and subjective political knowledge, reported technical skills and abilities, awareness of the electoral cycle and international principles of good electoral practice, …

· Socio-political attitudes: satisfaction with democracy, perception of the role of elections, left-right positioning, and values.

The demand for training: staff survey of election officials in the two case-studies of Mexico and the Republic of Korea

What training is needed by EMB officials? What are the skills and capacities of mid-level staff in a range of electoral authorities? These can be expected to be quite varied. In some cases, such as transitional elections held in fragile states as part of the peace-building and state-building process, public sector agencies can be expected to lack capacity and experience of electoral administration. In many other cases, however, over successive elections, many EMBs have now built a body of skilled and experienced staff, institutional procedures, and formal processes of recruitment and promotion, and internal training and capacity development programs administered by departments of human resources. The training needs identified 15 years ago are likely to differ considerably from the key priorities today, due to trends in both the professionalization of electoral management around the world, as well as technical advances in learning methods and approaches.

Therefore, to gauge the demand for international technical assistance for staff training and capacity development, the ELECT staff survey was conducted among a random sample of mid-level staff employed in two case-studies of Electoral Management Bodies in Mexico and the Republic of Korea. The staff survey was designed to monitor employee backgrounds, training experiences, and career paths, as well as to assess knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. This provides a broad mapping to identify the needs and capacities of EMB staff in each country.  

ELECT International Advisory Board

Blais, André (Université de Montréal)

Clark, Alistair (Newcastle University)

Donno, Daniela (University of Pittsburgh)

Elklit, Jørgen (Aarhus University)

Faith-Lihic, Annette (International IDEA)

Garnett, Holly Ann (McGill)

James, Toby (University of East Anglia)

Kerr, Nicholas (The University of Alabama)

Mozaffar, Shaheen (Bridgewater College)

Pallister, Kevin (UMASS Dartmouth)

Reynolds, Andrew (UNC Chapel Hill)

Rosas, Guillermo (Washington University in St. Louis)

Salas, Eduardo (Rice University)

Shein, Erica (IFES)

Van Ham, Carolien (UNSW)


[i] Jonathan Hartlyn, Jennifer McCoy, and Thomas Mustillo. 2008. ‘Electoral governance matters: Explaining the quality of elections in contemporary Latin America.’ Comparative Political Studies 41: 73-98 

[ii] Alan Wall et al/International IDEA. 2006. Electoral Management Design: The International IDEA Handbook. Sweden: International IDEA; Rafael López-Pintor. 2000. Electoral Management Bodies as Institutions of Governance, New York: United Nations Development Programme;

[iii] Shaheen Mozaffar and Andreas Schedler. 2002. ‘The comparative study of electoral governance: Introduction.’ International Political Science Review 23(1): 5-27; Alan Wall et al. 2006. Electoral Management Design: The International IDEA Handbook. Sweden: International IDEA; Jonathan Hartlyn, Jennifer McCoy, and Thomas Mustillo. 2008. ‘Electoral governance matters: Explaining the quality of elections in contemporary Latin America.’ Comparative Political Studies 41: 73-98.

[iv] Robert A. Pastor, 1999. ‘A brief history of electoral commissions.’ In Andreas Schedler, Larry Diamond, and Marc F. Plattner (Eds.), The self-restraining state: Power and accountability in new democracies (pp. 75-82). Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

[v] Ronald R. Sims. 1993. ‘Evaluating public sector training programs.’ Public Personnel Management. 22(4):591-

Online Further Resources

On election management bodies

Alan Wall et al./International IDEA. 2006. Electoral Management Design: The International IDEA Handbook. Sweden: International IDEA

Rafael López-Pintor. 2000. Electoral Management Bodies as Institutions of Governance, New York: United Nations Development Programme

Global Electoral Organizations GEO

Association of World Election Bodies(A-WEB) (Republic of Korea)

Association for European Election Officials ACEEEO

Asian Network of Free Elections

The BRIDGE Project Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections

On randomized evaluations