International Election Observation
Democratic elections allow citizens to express their will concerning who will have the authority to govern, which is an exercise of sovereignty and an internationally recognized fundamental right. In helping to promote the integrity of elections, NDI organizes international election assessments, which seek to:
Demonstrate international support for advancing democratic progress in a country;
Provide an impartial and accurate appraisal of the electoral environment and, where appropriate, recommendations for improving electoral processes;
Promote public confidence in democratic electoral processes;
Deter and/or expose electoral fraud; and
Help to foster a peaceful and open campaigning, voting, counting, results tabulation and respect for the outcomes of genuine democratic elections.
The Institute has organized more than 175 international delegations to observe elections, pre-election environments and post-election developments. NDI was one of the initiators in developing the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and the Code of Conduct for International Election Observers, which was launched in October 2005 at the United Nations. It is now endorsed by 46 intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations, which are engaged in the process of improving international election observation.
The Institute’s election observation missions seek information from political parties and candidates, electoral authorities and other government officials, media, civil society groups, domestic nonpartisan election monitors, and others concerned with electoral integrity. While maintaining impartiality and independent judgment, the missions use the information gathered as the basis for issuing findings and recommendations.
NDI’s experience demonstrates that international election observation can help to mitigate the potential for violence in polarized, conflict-prone circumstances and can illuminate factors that help to promote democratic progress. The Institute takes a long-term approach to election observation, mobilizing politicians, election and human rights experts, and country and regional specialists from a variety of nations in each Institute election observation effort. NDI also cooperates with other credible international and domestic election observers in the course of NDI observation missions.
A comprehensive election assessment takes into account all aspects of the electoral process. These include, among other matters, whether:
Minimum conditions were set up by the election law and broader legal framework to ensure universal and equal suffrage;
The electorate was provided with adequate, accurate information upon which to make an informed political choice;
Those seeking election were subjected to fair qualification processes;
Electoral contestants had a genuine opportunity to organize and campaign for votes;
The voter registration process guaranteed electoral rights;
The voting, counting, tabulation and announcement of results were conducted properly;
The investigation and resolution of complaints was just; and
The actual electoral winners assumed office.
Learn more about NDI's work in election monitoring by reading a list of NDI election observer delegation statements.
Nonpartisan Citizen Monitoring
There is an established and growing international acceptance, evidenced by state practice, of the positive contribution of nonpartisan election monitoring by national citizen organizations. Domestic election monitoring is based on the right of citizens to participate in government, the very precept from which electoral rights derive. Election monitoring by nonpartisan citizen organizations helps to raise public confidence in the election process. It deters irregularities and electoral manipulation and exposes them if they occur, provides an important avenue for citizens to take part in electoral processes and furnishes the domestic and international communities with important information concerning the integrity of elections, as well as recommendations for improving the process.
NDI pioneered in helping citizen organizations around the world to build capacities for monitoring electoral and political processes. Using a peer-to-peer (South-South) approach over the last 25 years, the Institute has assisted domestic nonpartisan election monitoring efforts by nongovernmental organizations in more than 80 countries and territories concerning:
first elections after democratic breakthroughs;
later elections in the process of democratic consolidation;
elections in countries where democratic progress faces serious constraints; and
elections in post-conflict and conflict-vulnerable societies.
This assistance has addressed a wide range of issues — from intensive election-day efforts that mobilize thousands to hundreds-of-thousands of citizens to monitor voting, counting and tabulation of results, as well as issues in the pre-election and post-election periods, including analysis of legal frameworks for elections, candidate qualification, voter registration, media monitoring and scrutiny of the processing of election complaints. In addition, NDI has promoted the development of regional networks of election monitoring organizations to demonstrate solidarity and share best practices.
As part of its work, NDI facilitated efforts to create the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM), which aims to foster solidarity among nonpartisan civic organizations worldwide and to create an interactive learning environment for its members. More than 175 national and regional nonpartisan observation groups, based in over 75 countries, have joined GNDEM since its inception in 2009. NDI currently administers the GNDEM website and social media outlets for the network.
At the heart of GNDEM is the Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring (DoGP). Developed by representatives of GNDEM’s regional network members, the declaration seeks to entrench global standards for nonpartisan election observation and to solidify the critical role of citizen observers in the electoral process. The DoGP recognizes and aims to support the precepts of democratic elections. Including that:
The authority of government derives from the will of the people expressed in genuinely democratic elections;
That everyone has the right to participate in government and public affairs, including by seeking to be elected and to vote in genuinely democratic elections; and
That elections belong to the people, and citizens have a right to know whether elections honestly and accurately reflect the people's will.
The DoGP was commemorated at the United Nations on April 3, 2012, and has since been endorsed by 209 nonpartisan election monitoring organizations in more than 80 countries and regions. In addition, key international organizations have become official supporters of the declaration, including: U.N. Secretariat, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the European Parliament, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, OAS, OSCE/ODIHR, International IDEA, The Carter Center, the Center for Electoral Assistance and Promotion (CAPEL), the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), Electoral Reform International Services (ERIS), International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and NDI. The effort of GNDEM members, to create and maintain global standards for domestic monitoring represents a trend, assisted by NDI, where citizens seek to build organizing capacities at the local level and gain political agency in their own countries through peer-to-peer exchanges and mutual accountability.
The Institute published NDI’s Handbook on How Domestic Organizations Monitor Elections: An A to Z Guide to help citizen groups develop monitoring plans and professionalize their impartial monitoring capabilities. In addition to numerous best practice papers, NDI has produced five manuals to assist civic organizations and political parties in specific aspects of monitoring:
Through nonpartisan election monitoring assistance, NDI has helped domestic organizations to develop skills in conducting government accountability activities, civic education, public policy advocacy and mobilizing citizen participation. All of these skills have applications outside the election context. Domestic election monitoring often involves coalition building, as well as developing constructive relationships with electoral authorities and other governmental bodies, political parties, the news media and representatives of the international community, which are important beyond elections.
To learn about parallel vote tabulation (PVT), a methodology that allows citizen observers to independently verify election results, check out NDI's PVT infographic and PVT information page»
Political Party Pollwatching and Electoral Integrity
To succeed in an election, political parties must do more than simply campaign well. They must also safeguard their interests at the ballot box through protecting the integrity of the election process. Political party pollwatching increasingly has become recognized as a standard part of the process in elections worldwide. Effective pollwatching includes training, rapid communication, information analysis and the ability to obtain appropriate, peaceful remedies. Pollwatching programs that systematically train and deploy a cadre of activists are a party-building activity, strengthening party networks developing skills of staff and key supporters. Effective party pollwatching includes training, rapid communication, information analysis and the ability to obtain appropriate peaceful remedies.
As a party institute, NDI has long understood the value of party pollwatching as an opportunity to strengthen democratic party structures and as a mechanism for deterring fraud on election day and beyond. NDI has worked extensively with political parties in over 50 countries to strategize how to protect their electoral rights. NDI’s program activities focus not only on observing voting processes on election day, but also include such techniques as verifying voter registries, monitoring ballot qualification processes, and observing the vote tabulation process from the polling station level to the central election authorities. NDI also works with parties to make effective use of election complaint mechanisms to seek peaceful redress for election-related grievances. This includes developing analysis of legal frameworks that can also be helpful in law reform efforts.
Related to pollwatching activities are programs that help to promote interparty dialogue during the election period. As a component of its programs, NDI has often identified opportunities to initiate party dialogue, such as roundtables on the legal framework for elections, the drafting of codes of conduct and the formation of inter-party election committees to diffuse possible conflicts and reduce violence. NDI has found such programs to be important in promoting elections as a peaceful way to resolve political competition in such diverse places as Cambodia, Kenya, Macedonia, Peru and Sierra Leone.
The Institute has also assisted political parties and civic organizations in developing election law reform initiatives in more than 30 countries as part of efforts to promote electoral integrity.
The Institute has published numerous documents to assist political parties in these efforts. Recent publications on this subject include:
Election Law Reform
NDI supports constitutional and law reform efforts to enhance the basis for genuine, democratic elections. The Institute has assisted such efforts to improve the legal framework for elections in more than 30 countries around the world.
Through these programs, NDI has provided over 100 legal commentaries to political parties, legislatures, governmental ministries, election commissions and civic organizations in order to enhance their capacities to take part in open dialogue about law reforms. The commentaries have been used in parliamentary debates, in roundtable discussions that include political and civic leaders and legal experts, and frequently have been the subject of news coverage that informed the public about the nature of the debates. The commentaries are based on internationally recognized principles of human rights, as well as on international standards and best practices in conducting democratic elections.
The commentaries usually are presented by NDI representatives resident in a country. NDI experts, either from staff or outside sources, sometimes travel to the countries to participate in consultations, roundtable discussions and other forums focused on reforming the legal framework for elections. Depending on the circumstances, the Institute may conduct a comprehensive review of the framework or may concentrate on specific issues that are central to reform efforts. In addition, NDI's pre-election, election and post-election delegations offer recommendations for improving election and political processes, which may address the need for law reforms. In each instance, the Institute seeks to help improve the democratic nature of the process leading to reforms, while contributing to the substance of the dialogue about them.
NDI also supports law reform efforts by providing political parties, parliamentary groups, and civic organizations with relevant materials on comparative law and constitutional models. The Institute consults with these sectors about methods used in various countries for citizen advocacy concerning law reform and methodologies for conducting civic education and enhancing citizen participation in law reform processes. The Institute has provided such information to civic organizations in more than 20 countries, while consulting with them on their law and constitutional reform initiatives.
NDI published a guidebook entitled Promoting Legal Frameworks for Democratic Elections: An NDI Guide for Developing Election Laws and Law Commentaries,which presents guiding principles and over 300 questions to consider when evaluating election laws. It includes a compendium of relevant provisions from international human rights instruments and an annotated compilation of relevant decisions of international human rights tribunals, as well as a bibliography and selected NDI commentaries on legal frameworks.
The Institute also has organized regional and country-specific working sessions on electoral-related rule of law activities. These sessions have included consultations and political dialogue to establish broad agreement about the rules for electoral competition, development of political party codes of conduct for election campaigns, and preparation of parties to better safeguard their electoral rights through monitoring of electoral processes and use of electoral complaint mechanisms to seek legal remedies. Such activities, as well as election monitoring by domestic civic organizations, often contribute to election law reform efforts.
For more information about these programs, use our contact form or contact:
Sunila Chilukuri, Program Assistant