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Election monitoring is the observation of an election by one or more independent parties, typically from another country or a non-governmental organization (NGO), primarily to assess the conduct of an election process on the basis of national legislation and international standards. There are national and international election observers. Monitors do not directly prevent electoral fraud, but rather record and report such instances. Election observation increasingly looks at the entire electoral process over a longer period of time, rather than at election-day proceedings only. The legitimacy of an election can be affected by the criticism of monitors, provided that they are themselves seen as unbiased. A notable individual is often appointed honorary leader of a monitoring organization in an effort to enhance its own legitimacy.
The first monitored election was that of a plebiscite in Moldavia and Wallachia that was monitored by most of the major European powers. Election monitoring was uncommon until after World War II. Election observation activities have expanded significantly following the end of the Cold War, along with the development of international standards on the conduct of democratic elections and the process of monitoring elections by both international and domestic observing organizations.
In the 1990s, international election observation focused on elections in countries with weak democracies or democracies in transition. In recent years, however, there has been an increasing number of observer mission monitoring elections in long-standing democracies, including the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
International organizations such as the Organization of American States, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Council of Europe and the African Union regularly deploy monitoring teams. The United Nations no longer provides monitoring services, instead it focuses on electoral assistance. Individual governments also participate in monitoring efforts, generally under the umbrella of an international organization. These national efforts are normally managed by the local electoral commission. A wide array of NGOs also participate in monitoring efforts. The Carter Center, for example, played a key role — with the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division and the National Democratic Institute — in building consensus on a common set of international principles for election observation.
International observation is complemented in many countries by domestic observer groups.
International Election Observation
Standard international election observation missions, as deployed by, for the example, the European Commission or the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), monitor the entire electoral process. Election experts and long-term observers begin their work weeks before the actual election day, looking at candidate registration, the legal framework, the media situation, the work of the election administration, and the campaign environment. On election day, short-term observers monitor the opening of polling stations, the vote cast, and the counting and tabulation of results. After election day, observer remain in the country for another few weeks to monitor how possible election-related shortcomings and complaints are dealt with by the election administration and the judiciary. The findings of the observers are made public in reports issued after election day.
Long Term Observers (LTO)
Most observation missions send a small number of long-term monitors (known as LTOs) for a period of six to eight weeks. A larger number of short-term observers (known as STOs) then join the mission for the final week of the campaign. STOs provide mostly quantitative observation of polling station and count procedures, with LTOs supplying qualitative analysis and contextual information about the wider political situation.
In some cases, the objectivity of some international observers is questioned.
Domestic Election Observation
In addition to international organizations monitoring elections, citizen organizations—or coalitions of organizations—also monitor elections in their own country. The most common type of domestic election monitoring comes by way of party poll-watchers, who are partisan individuals that are looking out for the interests of their party. Election day activities of partisan observation groups often included scrutinizing the accreditation, voting, counting and tabulations processes at polling units throughout election day.
There are, however, also numerous domestic nonpartisan observer groups in many countries.
Local and regional election monitoring
Though most international observer organisations have a mandate to observe parliamentary elections, the Congress of the Council of Europe, in cooperation with the Venice Commission, is specifically mandated to monitor local and regional elections and is unique in this regard. Since 1990, over 50 election processes have been observed by the Congress.
The Congress Strategy on election observation is based on three lines of action:
- Election monitoring by the Congress should contribute to setting up institutional frameworks which comply with the principles underlying local democracy as laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. In light of this, the Congress puts the accent on post-election dialogue as part of the Congress' work on monitoring of local and regional democracy. The aim is to improve the follow-up given to the recommendations adopted by the Congress following election observation missions and to facilitate their implementation.
- Election monitoring by the Congress should contribute to promoting awareness about the significance of democracy at the local and regional level.
- Making full use of the unique role of the Congress in the field of election observation, efforts are also made to increase the operational capability of election observation missions.
- Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
- Congress of the Council of Europe
- National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
- International Republican Institute
- "Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation".
- "Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations".[dead link]
- The Carter Center list of elections observed. The Carter Center.
- 'People power' is a global brand owned by America. By Mark Almond. August 15, 2006. The Guardian.
- E-Voting.CC: Observing Threats to Voter’s Anonymity: Election Observation of Electronic Voting
- Congress of the Council of Europe
- EU: Handbook for European Union Election Observation Missions[dead link]
- OSCE: Election Observation Handbook
- OSCE: Handbook for Long Term Election Observers[dead link]
- UN: Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation[dead link]
- Guidelines on an internationally recognised status of election observers [dead link] Venice Commission, 2009
- Beyond Intractability: Election monitoring[dead link]
- IFES - Democracy at Large: Election Services
- National Democratic Institute for International Affairs: Elections & Political Processes[dead link]
- The Global Network for Domestic Election Monitors
- OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights: Elections
- UN Electoral Assistance Division
BBC. OSCE is the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.