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Why Elections Fail

Why elections fail

Pippa Norris
NY:Cambridge University Press, July 2015

 Paperback | 978-1-107-67902-3  $29.99

 Hardback | 978-1-107-05284-0 

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Book synopsis

The ‘electoral revolution’ is one of the most dramatic developments transforming the globe during the twentieth century. At the end of World War II, only around fifty independent nation-states had a popularly-elected legislature.Today, by contrast, direct elections have been almost universally adopted worldwide as the main mechanism for the legitimate allocation of legislative offices.[i]  Nevertheless, as numerous scholars have highlighted, the quality of contemporary elections commonly fails to meet international standards.  This matters for the legitimacy of elected authorities, for political participation, and for regime stability in fragile states.[ii]

This second volume in the planned trilogy seeks to unpack the reasons why elections are undermined by numerous kinds of problems. Structural, international, and institutional accounts provide alternative perspectives seeking to explain general processes of democratization and these theories are adapted to develop insights into why elections may fail to meet international standards. 

The first perspective suggests that some problems are probably best explained by the challenging conditions and the societal constraints in which contemporary elections are attempted. It is far from easy to organize effective elections in the world’s poorest societies, such as Haiti or Equatorial Guinea, where many citizens lack basic education, literacy, and access to modern transportation and communications, or in deeply-divided societies wracked by years of conflict, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan. An alternative argument focuses upon the international community’s attempts to uphold global norms, through monitoring elections, diplomatic pressures threatening or punishing regimes which violate standards, as well as the provision of technical assistance and development aid.[ii] International efforts can help but sustainable solutions require buy-in by domestic  stake-holders.

By contrast to these predominant perspectives, this book focuses primarily upon the claim that the most effective interventions for strengthening contests involve the types of institutional arrangements.  These are not as rigid as fixed structural conditions, such as geography and development, but also not as transient as international electoral observation missions and development aid. In terms of institutional design, this book argues that insights should be firmly rooted in theories of consensus or power-sharing electoral governance. The essential aspect is rules to prevent winners from consolidating power through manipulating the electoral regulations and to build trust in the electoral process. At the same time, the electoral authorities need sufficient capacity and resources to manage elections effectively. Drawing on new cross-national comparative evidence from the PEI survey, the study determines the most effective design in the institutions of electoral governance.

The trilogy of books explores many issues concerning electoral integrity, focusing upon three main questions: What happens when elections violate international standards of electoral integrity? Why do elections fail? And what can be done to mitigate these problems? To address these questions, the study draws upon the Electoral Integrity Project, a multilevel research project generating new evidence about the quality of elections worldwide.


Preface and acknowledgments

List of tables and figures

I: Introduction 

1. Why do elections fail?
2. Comparative evidence 

II: Explaining failures

4. International forces
5. Institutional checks
6. Electoral management 

III: Conclusions

7. Conclusions: Lessons for strengthening electoral integrity 

Technical appendices
Select bibliography


[i] Estimated from the Cross-National Time-Series data Archive 

[ii] Pippa Norris. 2014. Why Electoral Integrity Matters. New York: Cambridge University Press; Pippa Norris, Richard W. Frank and Ferran Martinez I Coma. 2014. Eds. Advancing Electoral Integrity. New York: Oxford University Press. 

[ii] See, for example, Susan D. Hyde. 2011. The Pseudo-Democrat’s Dilemma. Ithaca: Cornell University Press; Sarah Birch. 2012. Electoral Malpractice. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Judith Kelley. 2012. Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works and Why it Often Fails. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Alberto Simpser. 2013. Why governments and parties manipulate elections: Theory, practice and implications. New York: Cambridge University Press; Daniella Donno. 2013. Defending Democratic Norms. New York: Oxford University Press;