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The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.


From left to right: NDI President Kenneth Wollack, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), NDI Chairman and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Congressman David Price (D-NC) and IRI President Lorne Craner. 

The evolution of international election observation and its impact were among the topics discussed by a panel of distinguished leaders that opened an international meeting on observation standards hosted by NDI in Washington last month.

“Together, we are determined to build on the lessons that we have learned and to make even greater gains in the future,” said NDI Chairman and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. “In offering that pledge, we feel a sense of urgency because election monitoring can have an enormous impact on human lives.”

In addition to Albright, the Nov. 13 panel included Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and Reps. David Dreier, R-CA, and David Price, D-NC, chairman and ranking member respectively of the House Democracy Partnership. The panel was moderated by Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, and Kenneth Wollack, president of NDI. Their organizations cohosted the event at the U.S. Capitol. The audience included about 100 people, including representatives from 25 international organizations that practice election observation.

The panel underscored issues such as how the credibility of an electoral process impacts the legitimacy of government and the importance of crafting observation recommendations to national policymakers.

Panelists acknowledged that international election observation has evolved significantly and noted that the general acceptance of international observers by countries across the globe makes it imperative for organizations to adhere to at least minimum standards when performing election observation.

More than 40 intergovernmental and international organizations now endorse the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation, which was launched in 2005 at the United Nations. Since its inception, the declaration has served as a living document that provides a basis for collaboration in countries observed and in addressing challenges to observation practice.

The panel opened a broader implementation meeting of the declaration, which was held at NDI’s Washington office on Nov. 14-15. It was the seventh in an annual series of exchanges around the declaration’s principles. The panelists’ comments helped put the implementation meeting into perspective. For example, Senator Shaheen, speaking from her experiences as both an observer and a legislator, emphasized the importance of international observation mission reports and recommendations for policymakers in crafting political and diplomatic efforts. The idea of observation mission recommendations informing policy was addressed the next day in a working session on how to better formulate and encourage implementation of recommendations.

In addressing how international observers can best coordinate with nonpartisan citizen observers, participants agreed that those efforts can and should be complementary practices. International observer missions that adhere to the Declaration of Principles bring an outside, impartial and comparative perspective and usually have immediate access to governments and the diplomatic community, while nonpartisan citizen observers organized around principles for systematic election observation are well-positioned to conduct long-term political analysis, mobilize grassroots networks, verify the quality of voting processes and results, and conduct post-election activities. Participants at the working session agreed that they should use their perspective, experience and unique diplomatic position not only to assess a given electoral process but to engage with and advocate for the participation in elections of local stakeholders, including citizen election observers.

The implementation meeting also addressed how international observers can better mitigate the potential for electoral violence, monitor electronic voting technologies and document the impact of international election observation. In addition, participants agreed to form working groups to address further areas discussed at the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) brought the event to a close with a pledge to facilitate further dialogue on these priority areas, looking ahead to the next implementation meeting, which the ODIHR will host next fall in Warsaw, Poland.




Published Dec. 18, 2012