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Dr Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz

Senior Research Fellow

Dr. Beata Martin-Rozumiłowicz is currently the Regional Director for Europe and Eurasia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). Before starting in February 2016, she headed the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODHIR) Election Department in Warsaw since 2011 and previously served as its Deputy from 2009 to 2011. From 2005 to 2009, she worked on dozens of ODIHR election observation missions across the OSCE participating states as Deputy Head of Mission or as Political Analyst. In 2005, she served as Election Adviser at the OSCE Centre in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and from 2003 to 2005 was Political/Media Officer at the OSCE Centre in Almaty, Kazakhstan. From 2000 to 2002, Beata acted as Human Dimension Officer at the OSCE’s Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, Belarus. She has also previously consulted for IFES in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan on various aspects of electoral reform. Dr. Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz holds a D.Phil. (Ph.D.) and M.Phil. (Masters) in politics from the University of Oxford. From 1999-2000, she was research fellow for Oxford’s Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, publishing a book on media law reform in transitional democracies. She has also published various articles on political party and electoral development, election observation, media freedom, and political party and campaign finance issues.

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6323 [post_author] => 30 [post_date] => 2022-01-29 00:00:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2022-01-28 23:00:43 [post_content] => When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 it was a great victory for democracy. Experts purported the end of history and many anticipated that a linear progress away from authoritarianism and dictatorship was all but assured. Yet, 30 some years on, is a new Berlin Wall just outside of Kyiv what Russia is again pushing for? The current circumstances seem to indicate that the answer to this question is yes. While the Yeltsin years gave some hope of an incipient democracy in Russia, this soon started to dissipate in the early 2000s with Putin’s victory. As an election observer in Russian in 2003, I saw first-hand how fraudulent votes were being cast by election commissions to assure Putin’s continued success. Yet the West did little to call him on these early infractions. Later, as countries (including Ukraine) fell to ‘so-called’ colour revolutions, Moscow’s response became more belligerent and recalcitrant. Some claimed that antagonistic Western forces were to blame, all the while touting self-determination and national sovereignty. The initial successes in Poland and other Eastern European countries in the early 2000s, however, gave people in places like Ukraine a real hope for a different way of life. This was so much a threat that it caused Moscow to bankroll a Party of Regions and a Viktor Yanukovych to tow the Moscow line and to prevent democracy from taking root in the country. Yet Ukrainians again decided in 2014 that they wanted representative democracy and a road to Europe. This Revolution of Dignity underscored that Russia had again miscalculated its strategy towards Ukraine (as they had in 2004 during the previous Orange Revolution). While Russia’s geopolitical strategy in the region is not only about Ukraine, it does continue to hold a Cold War, bipolar view of the world where the focus is about Russia playing a global role again, sitting at the same table with the US, and calling the shots. With recent developments in Kazakhstan and Belarus, these former Soviet republics have become closer to the Russian orbit, but Ukraine continues to keep slipping away. Russia has lost the hearts and minds of Ukrainians (as well as of Belarusians, and many Kazakhs, Armenians, and others) and is seen as the protector of authoritarian regimes, using its political and military means to stymie genuine sovereignty, democratisation, and further development. While this may currently be enough in Belarus or Kazakhstan, it has not worked in Ukraine. With Yanukovych having fled to Russia, Moscow shifted focus and resources to new technologies, influence campaigns and hybrid warfare. The taking of Crimea and the false-flag operations in Donbas, and the attempt to attack the Ukrainian electoral system in 2014 to produce a Moscow-favourable Ukrainian president (in the shape of unlikely and unknown Dmytro Yarosh) was a prelude to documented Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections. With the somewhat surprising win of Trump over Clinton, Moscow likely calculated that their new strategy had succeeded. Yet with Biden winning in 2020 and democracy and good governance firmly back on the agenda (albeit with focus initially on China), the Russians must have realised that they had overplayed what they considered to be a winning hand. This came on top of dashed hopes of gaining US respect and recognition during the George W. Bush administration, which came to naught with Iraq, colour revolutions and, later, the Arab spring under the Obama administration. And so, we are where we are now. With smear campaigns against the Biden family and top officials within Ukrainian circles not gaining traction, the Russians have decided to hunker down and re-focus on previous Cold War strategies. Top amongst them is a buffer zone to surround Russia and insulate it from the debilitating democratic influence, particularly in Ukraine, where its size and proximity to Russia mean that it is a danger of becoming an example and a call to Russia’s own citizens to question why they live in the conditions they do. Staunch the wound before they bleed out. And those questions are becoming ever more insistent, both within Russia itself, as well as within the independent states surrounding Russia. The excesses of the Yanukovych regime, when his lavish estates and golden toilets were exposed for the world to see by protestors in 2014 also caused Russians to question similar presidential holdings in Sochi. Ukraine, Georgia, and increasingly Armenia, have become examples to other autocratic states in the region of what democratic change can achieve. It gives impetus to opposition movements in Russia, itself, with the advent of Navalny, and even in countries like Belarus during the last elections. The Berlin Wall had insulated Russia for some thirty years from this debilitating democratic contagion. Their hope is that a new barrier will serve the same role for the next thirty and assure authoritarian continuity. Will the current political circumstances in the region lead to the formation of a new Berlin Wall approach? We’re likely to know that answer very soon. [post_title] => Does Russia want a new Berlin Wall? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => does-russia-want-a-new-berlin-wall [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-01-28 21:49:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-01-28 20:49:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4625 [post_author] => 30 [post_date] => 2020-05-01 11:20:52 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-05-01 11:20:52 [post_content] => As the world faces its worse pandemic in over a century, there is little doubt where the virus originated and how it spread to the rest of the world. Nevertheless, it has become the subject of a massive propaganda and disinformation campaign, potentially impacting the quality of democracy and the practice of democratic elections. In this respect, there are at least two parallels between 2016 and 2020. Firstly, when Russia used disinformation to meddle in the U.S. and other countries’ elections in 2016, it caught the West by surprise and it was not prepared to react promptly. Russia’s main aim has been to undermine and weaken democracy as a system. In 2020, what could have been initially a Chinese damage control strategy (after the initial cover-up of the existence of a new and dangerous virus) turned quickly into a major (dis)information offensive. Perhaps following the rule that the best defense is a good offense, it again surprised the West and it has again been used to undermine the basic principles of democracy. The world’s autocrats quickly came up with a narrative that countries with a stronger grip on power are better prepared to overcome the current pandemic. They argue that it is much easier for autocrats to restrict fundamental freedoms that further spread the virus. Democratic countries also limit freedoms, but try to find a reasonable balance and justification for such actions. Importantly, what is described by autocrats as the biggest weakness – the discontent demonstrated by criticism from independent media and civil society against such restrictions (particularly if they are not well justified) – is actually their biggest strength. A well-informed person who generally trusts the government is more likely to accept and tolerate lockdowns and follow the rules than someone whose access to information is limited and who has been misinformed by their government in the past. What are the current dangers when it comes to instrumentalizing the pandemic for authoritarian ends and the modes of that happening? On one side, some leaders are imposing states of emergency to enlarge their competencies and cement their grip on power (Hungary, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Serbia). On the other side, some politicians have denied the dangers of the pandemic and hesitantly started with the implementation of measures against the virus for political considerations related to elections (United States, Belarus, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan). Is it actually possible to hold democratic elections under the current circumstances? And in what kind of environment? Vastly different epidemiologically than previous crises, like Ebola, responses in the Covid-19 environment need to potentially be rethought and refashioned. One key element is that with Covic-19, people can be infectious for long periods of time while being asymptomatic. Some experts also think that the 2-meter rule may not be enough. All of these aspects need to be factored in. Should we rush to switch online and start implementing e-voting the same way as we have embraced opportunities of online communication for conducting online trainings, webinars, virtual conferences, etc.? Is it possible to conduct campaigning and rallies/protests online? These are all important points that this briefing paper considers. How Does Democratic Life Continue OnlineLarge gatherings are restricted everywhere as they can be sources of infection and so autocrats have an easy excuse for banning mass protests. In Russia, Vladimir Putin was quick to use the situation, ending months of speculations on how exactly he was going to extend his stay in power. Extending his presidency for another two, six-year terms was easier as the threat of Covid-19 effectively prevented his opponents from organizing any public protests. However, the last act in this well-choreographed political piece, namely a referendum to approve the constitutional amendments proposed by the parliament to allow Putin to run again, was postponed due to the pandemic. Given the Kremlin’s track record, however, few doubt the outcome of the referendum, which could be a reason for why the regime is not in a particular hurry to organize the plebiscite now. But Russia is not the only country to face a dilemma about whether to organize a vote despite the current circumstances. In France, the pandemic pushed voter turnout to a record low during the first round of local elections on 15 March (44.66 percent against 63.5 percent in 2014),[1] prompting the government to postpone the second round until 21 June. Low turnouts are often perceived as a problem for the legitimacy of any government winning the election. Another issue of concern is the ability of different segments of society to exercise their franchise under equal conditions, given the higher risks for older age groups. Elections belong to the people, and if it is impossible to ensure their integrity and credibility, it seems to be reasonable to postpone them until these essential conditions are guaranteed. To make the situation more complex, however, on the other side of the argument are potential attempts by incumbent governments to misuse the current pandemic and extend their mandate undemocratically. As such, at stake is not only the health of our citizens but also the health of our democracies. Is it possible to find the balance between the two and organize elections? Can Elections be Held Safely?The jury is still out on this question and many cases have been advocated on both sides of the argument. The most recent comparison has been made to voting during the time of the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the measures taken there at the time, such as protective equipment, thermometers, and disinfection measures. However, epidemiologically, Covid-19 is a very different virus and works in different ways. It is now clear that infection rates may be much higher than many societies imagine and that the incubation period may be much longer than experts initially hypothesized. Many people may be highly infectious while being asymptomatic. While elements like social distancing measures and the wearing of masks may go some way in helping to ensure that people who are infected don’t spread the disease to others, they don’t necessary protect against individuals getting infected. It’s clear that the only way to avoid infection altogether is to avoid all social contact. What does this mean for elections? In the first place, that we should clearly base our recommendations on the expertise and analysis of health care professionals, especially those at the front line of the pandemic responses and key organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO). Antibody testing, when this available on a wide scale, will go some distance in helping societies to understand who has already contracted and survived the disease – although there still remains the question of whether and for how long survivors may be immune to further infection. Even WHO warned against issuing ‘immunity passports’ or ‘risk-free certificates’ to people who have recovered Covid-19 (that would enable them to travel or return to work based on the assumption that they are protected against re-infection), as there is no evidence that they will be protected from a second infection.[2] Then there is the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE). This is somewhat controversial, as in any society, we shouldn’t be taking vital resources out of the health care systems, which may suffer as a result. If it’s possible to procure and supply election management bodies with such materials in such a way and to develop procedural measures that ensure maximal protection against cross-contamination, we may be able to see a possible way forward during some time period. However, the recent example in the U.S. state of Wisconsin doesn’t give much room for optimism. With all the best practices known at the time, some 36 voters still managed to become infected while serving on election commissions or waiting in line and then voting in that state’s elections.[3] In the absence of this, some countries have started experimenting with other measures. In Poland, where a national presidential election is slated to take place on 10 May, the authorities are considering introducing full-scale postal voting throughout the country so as not to put their citizens in danger by having to go to polling stations. While on the surface of things, this may seem like a positive move, the decision is fraught with a number of fundamental problems; namely, it is a system that has not been widely tested, within a postal system that is widely considered ineffective, with a mobile population that may not necessarily reside at the address of their registration (on which voter lists are established), and is not observable by either citizen or international observers. So while the above is not heartening, it at least lays out the parameters of what needs to be considered as we move forward with ensuring that fundamental democratic value and principles, such as integral elections, don’t also become a victim of this pandemic crisis. South Korea was among the first countries to hold a national vote since the pandemic began. Given the fact that the country has never postponed an election (including the 1952 presidential election, which took place in the middle of the Korean War), changing the election date was considered problematic. Instead, the elections went ahead, following rigorous safety and social distancing measures.[4] If a voter had an elevated body temperature, he/she was taken to a segregated polling booth, which was disinfected after each use. The many voters who had been placed in self-isolation due to potential infections were allowed to vote, but only after the polling stations had been closed to all other voters, and provided that they were asymptomatic. Approximately one-third of votes were cast in advance, either by post or in special quarantine polling stations, which operated prior to election day. This example shows that it is possible to hold elections even in the current circumstances, although thanks to their previous experience with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS) from 2015, South Koreans were clearly much better prepared. Disinformation in Times of Covid-19It is not a mere coincidence that autocrats around the world have realized that this is a great opportunity to grab more power for themselves with the rest of the world not paying enough attention due to the pandemic. According to the Economist, as many as 84 governments have enacted emergency laws vesting extra powers in the executive, which should be relinquished when the pandemic is over.[5] But in some cases, such as in Hungary, it may not. The parliament gave Prime Minister Viktor Orban the right to rule indefinitely by decree, prompting his critics to accuse him of misusing the health crisis to seize new powers. In many other countries, new emergency laws broaden state surveillance, infringing on the right to privacy and on freedoms of assembly and expression. Some leaders care more about their political lives than those of their citizens when they carry on with preparations for elections. In Belarus, to fight the coronavirus, Alexander Lukashenko has advised his compatriots to drink more vodka, turn the steam on in the bathhouse, eat more garlic and sit behind the wheel of the tractor in the fields. His critics believe that his negligence can be linked to the upcoming elections (30 August), as he is worried that the prolonged economic crisis in the country will get another serious blow if Belarus goes into lockdown and adopts similar measures that many other countries have implemented. While Belarus may offer an extreme example, similar political equations are being balanced by countries like Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Poland as they determine whether to continue with their elections in the coming months. Can Technology Help and What are the Risks?In this discussion, voices have put forward the suggestion of Internet voting as a possible mitigating solution in the current Covid-19 pandemic. Although it is laudable to want to keep citizens safe, while ensuring that genuine electoral processes can continue with full participation as a foundation stone to democratic institutions, there are many reasons to be skeptical of this as a panacea. In the first place, there is a lack of tried and tested technology in this area. Although some pilots have been conducted (such as the recent one for military voters in the U.S. states of Alaska and West Virginia), there is a lack of systems that have been tested on a statewide basis and there are still some fundamental concerns and challenges that exist. The first is in terms of encryption and end-to-end verifiability. While innovative techniques like blockchain, which was used in the West Virginia example, are often touted as offering some possible solutions, there are still significant enough concerns that the system is not without vulnerabilities. From a verifiability and electoral integrity standpoint, it is important to ensure that each individual voter can absolutely confirm that his/her vote has been cast as intended (individual verifiability) and that all votes have been counted as cast (universal verifiability). While progress has been made on this front in controlled environments that involve advanced cryptography techniques, these are elements that have been difficult to ensure absolutely in the internet pilots conducted. As legitimacy of elections is fundamentally based on citizen trust, it is essential that this not be eroded on the basis of dubious gain. As well, new and innovative best practices, such as the use of risk-limiting audits, where a certain random sample of ballots is recounted essentially require a voter-verified paper trail in order to be implemented. Internet voting fundamentally undermines this possibility and the resultant confidence-building measure that could be used. Another reason to be reasonably skeptical of internet voting as a possible quick solution in this current crisis. Finally, there is the issue of coercion. While even traditional electronic voting, such as on direct-recording electronic (DREs) voting machines, takes place in a controlled environment resembling polling stations, Internet voting essentially takes place in an uncontrolled environment that risks coercion and/or corruption. Just imagine a person holding a gun to someone’s head to vote a certain way in conflict scenarios, or a wife being voted for by a husband in traditional communities. These are elements that are difficult to overcome in locations where there is not the oversight to ensure neutrality and independence, as in the traditional polling station environments. Lastly, there is the issue of participation. While many have an assumption that this would increase in an online environment where people don’t have to travel to a physical location, the evidence may not be as clear as people think. In Estonia, which has conducted Internet voting for more than a decade, research indicates that people that traditionally vote will do so on different platforms (in person, via computer, etc.), and those that don’t have this habit don’t seem to be overly encouraged by a new platform. Thus, the question is civic engagement rather than voter vehicle. Not to make light of the argument that voting is a civic activity that finds its full expression in a social setting, such as a polling station. With these elements to the argument, it is necessary to fully consider the benefits and costs to each body politic before the last minute and sometimes not fully thought through solutions are advocated. ConclusionsIn conclusion, the Covid-19 pandemic offers many challenges, but also perhaps some opportunities in buttressing and protecting democratic norms and democratic elections. While authoritarian states and leaders spread significant disinformation and propaganda touting the efficacy of their form of government to combatting the global crisis, the reality may be more nuanced. Effective protection and buy-in of citizens to abide by protective measures necessitate open societies that make collective decisions through a democratic process that are based on evidence and facts, not on hearsay and disinformation. A key component of this democratic decision making process is the conduct of integral, democratic elections. While challenges exist that must be dealt with head-on, including in some cases postponing processes until proper measures can be put in place, this vehicle of societal consensus should not be sacrificed to more authoritarian proclivities. Thus, the focus should be placed on openly discussing and deciding on the measures that need to be implemented for voters to be able to make their choice in protected environments, with limited exposure to their personal health and well-being. In some cases, elements of this environment are known (such as PPE and social distancing) and should be the focus in the short term. On other fronts, technological solutions may be part of the solution in the longer terms, although Internet voting is not yet ready for primetime. But in the end, for the disinformation to be properly countered, the onus is on democratic systems to show that protection of citizens’ health and well-being is coterminous the respect of their fundamental, democratic rights and this will be the more enduing solution to the crisis.Dr. Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz is Regional Director for Europe and Eurasia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and an FPC Research Fellow. Rasto Kuzel is Executive Director of Memo 98[1]     and[2]     [3]               “State and local health officials said they expected to see cases begin emanating from the election by the following week, but the Department of Health Services said it wouldn’t “have a full picture of the impact for several weeks,” noting the lengthy contact tracing process to track exposure of the virus.”[4]               These included requirement for voters to wear face masks and stay at least 1 metre apart when queueing or casting votes. Before they entered polling stations, voters were checked for fever using a thermometer. They were also required to use hand sanitiser and received disposable plastic gloves.[5]     [post_title] => FPC Briefing: How to Maintain Integrity of Elections during the Covid-19 Pandemic [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-maintain-integrity-of-elections-during-the-covid-19-pandemic [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-01 11:44:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-01 11:44:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 2446 [post_author] => 30 [post_date] => 2018-01-25 12:15:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-25 12:15:25 [post_content] => As the history of structured and methodologically-based election observation is nearing its twenty-fifth anniversary, it seems that the time is ripe to take stock of the current state of play with regard to election observation in the European space. Over this time-period, the Organization for Security and Co-operation’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE / ODIHR) has been instrumental in moving this rights and principles-based election observation approach forward considerably, with ground-breaking publications such as its Election Observation Handbook, first published in 1996 and now in its sixth edition. A number of methodological handbooks published over the years have built upon and nuanced this initial approach.[1] Other organizations, such as the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union (EU) have very much modelled their approach on the one of the OSCE / ODIHR. While the former often joins OSCE / ODIHR election observation missions (EOMs) under the auspices of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the later has adopted its own independent methodology and structure (large based on the OSCE / ODIHR model). Also, while the PACE observers in many EOMs, they rarely are involved in Election Assessment Missions, primarily deployed in European Union countries. The EU as a whole doesn’t send Election Observation Mission (EUEOMs) to observe in OSCE participating States.[2] The European Parliament, however, sometimes sends delegations to participate in OSCE/ODIHR EOMs, which in addition to signing up to the overall findings of an EOM, sometimes also report internally to the EP upon return. As well, a community of good practice, based around the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation (DoP), has contributed to the methodological rigours of election observation in the European space as well as globally. The DoP is now in its thirteenth year and it has been endorsed by more than 50 organizations, including the UN, the EU, the European Parliament, the CoE, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Carter Center, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and many others.[3] Institutionally, the DoP community helps buttress and constantly builds upon the methodological foundations of credible international observation and further developments in emerging issues of concern. At the same time, a ‘community of bad practice’ has sprung up with a plethora of organizations and individuals without methodological rigour or transparency as to their methods for reaching the conclusions that they do. Often, reports emanating from this community are not public or are rudimentary in their nature, their means of financing opaque, and they are often responsible for the phenomena of deployment of ‘zombie observers’ to many countries.[4] As such, the time seems ripe for an evaluation of the current state of play of election observation in the European space. This piece will look at some of the outstanding problems and examine some of the remedies that are available. It is hoped that the essay will offer a comprehensive view forward on how international election observation can continue to be relevant in the years and decades to come.

The Problems Extant

One fundamental issue with election observation is that without a firm grounding in standards and principles, there is always a risk of it becoming politicized and arbitrary. This reduces both the meaning and the impact of the exercise. Of course, context is always important (and no observer will dispute this), but fundamental human rights principles and rights can’t be ignored and are not relative (rights such as the freedom of expression, association, assembly, etc.) Throughout the course of the development of election observation as an institution, I would pose that there has been a fundamental tension between this rights-based approach, and an instrumental approach that sees it as a political tool to national-interest ends. This is true of both the good and the bad practice communities. This tension is particularly dangerous, as it introduces relativity and subjectivity to an electoral assessment process, which then can (and is) being used by opponents to destroy the institution of election observation.[5] Part of the problem historically has also been the tension between parliamentary ‘leaders’ of observation efforts and the electoral experts that draw these assessments, based on certain pre-defined parameters. I would argue while both elements are necessary, both sides also need to understand their comparative strengths as well as the possible blind spots that make their involvement in election observation less effective. For instance, without the political weight and profile of parliamentary leaders, observation risks being shunted into unimportance or irrelevance by those who would rather ignore the findings. Thus, parliamentarians bring a higher degree of exposure to the process of election observation. At the same time, for purely bandwidth reasons, such individuals don’t have the time to devote the level of depth of analysis and understanding to truly and credibly evaluate an electoral process. Almost all in the field now agree that election day is only one part of the process; one which starts months before the day with the delineation of constituency boundaries, the registration of voters and candidates, the ability of those candidates to campaign, the role of money in politics, the freedom of the media space to allow voters to make informed choices free from pressure and intimidation, the process of procurement and implementation of any technological aspects to the process, the adjudication of complaints and appeals and the declaration of final results. All of these processes are as important (if not more so) than the actual casting of ballots, counting of them and tabulation of the preliminary results. In addition is the ability of women, minority groups, disabled persons, youth and other marginalized groups to understand and access the process equally to other citizens. This is an aspect which is receiving an ever-greater attention in modern election observation assessments. In order to respond to these challenges there is a clear need for a complex evaluation mechanism that requires experts in each field of properly evaluate whether international obligations, standards and good practices have been met and then to balance these factors in an overall evaluation of a particular electoral process. Parliamentarians are crucial in helping find this evaluatory balance, but they should not be seeking to change reality for their own political ends, as happens far too often. The most recent allegations and investigations into various, high-profile cases of corruption and venality through this problem into stark relief.[6] As discussed in the introduction above, on the other side of the equation is what I have come to term the ‘community of bad practice’, which mirrors and mimics this rights-based approach. This community is driven by certain States that seek to show that everything is relative, that there is no such thing as a rights-based approach, that all that is relevant is transactional foreign policy, and that all processes are ultimately corruptible. The current political climate both in Europe and in the United States has recently buoyed proponents of this point of view and it is to some degree gaining traction amidst all the furore of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. This grouping has made significant progress in undermining the institution of election observation in a variety of ways. They meet regularly amongst themselves to share experiences that undermine observation and are increasingly engaging in alternative electoral technical assistance amongst their like-minded associates. They more regularly deploying ‘zombie’ observers and organizations to counter credible observation reporting and fill the media space with such alternative truths to confuse and mislead citizens and voters.[7] More insidiously, there is the work done corrupting individual politicians on election missions to in an effort to alter the findings as well as at an organizational level to limit funding and political support for election observation and to administratively hamper such credible observation. There is also some evidence to suggest that they are more regularly funding political parties throughout Europe and in other parts of the world to actively change the political space and discourse.[8] More overtly, the recent attempts to make incursions into electoral / voter registration systems during the 2016 Presidential Election in the United States, which targeted new voting technologies with the aim of potentially tampering with results is a particularly worrying development.[9] It’s altogether likely that the lessons learned from these incursions will be increasingly used in other country contexts. While the United States to some extent may have been saved by the fragmented and de-centralised electoral systems in place, it is somewhat frightening to think what might be possible in a smaller, more unitary and less tech-savvy state in the future. All of these elements described above are individually dangerous and undermining to international election observation in the European space. Taken together, however, they spell a significant danger for elections, in general, and for the democratic process itself.

International Response and Remedy

Given the situation described above, what can be done about the current situation? In this section, a few recommendations are offered that may provide food for thought in these discussions. One, and probably the primary, is for individual States to recommit to the human rights principles espoused in the 90s, namely that a rights-based, evidence-grounded approach to election observation is still valued and necessary in promoting democratic principles worldwide (including amongst Western countries themselves). Secondly, organizations such as the EU, the CoE and the OSCE should introduce internal checks and balances to weed out any potential corruption in their organizations. Recent moves in the CoE to have observer delegation members to investigate past corruption fully and to have members declare potential conflicts of interest in advance of deployment is a step in the right direction. This should go hand-in-hand with such organizations understanding the need for a balanced role between parliamentary personalities and technical electoral experts as equally indispensable and mutually supportive to credible election observation, and to develop institutions in this direction. More attention must also be given to appropriate evaluation and attention to all parts of the electoral process, starting months before election day and continuing until all electoral disputes have been resolved and a final electoral result has been reached that enjoys integrity and public confidence.[10] The over-reliance of parliamentarians on their specific experiences on a single day or days of this process should be tempered and balanced against the longer-term narrative, which is integral to such an assessment. Finally, it is important that organizations which observe election are properly resourced, both humanly and financially, so that these exercises remain robust and meaningful. This is particularly challenging in a time of global economic downturn, shrinking government budgets and populist political agendas. Ensuring such sustainability, however, is essential if the gains of the past two decades and a half are not to suffer setbacks and erosion. It is also necessary for these organizations (and the States and comprise them) to work at all levels to rebut the growing narrative that all values and principles are relative and that, therefore, no independent and impartial electoral evaluation is possible or desirable.


In conclusion, the challenges that currently face election observation in the European space are numerous and growing. Greatest of note is the concerted push-back to the exercise which is growing amongst a number of states and which is likely to increase in the coming years. With continuous examination and self-reflection, however, as well as with continued developments and consistent financial support, international election observation is an institution that continue to yield benefits in the years to come. Although the current environment, both politically and economically, may seem bleak for the continuation of such multilateral exercises, the gains made over recent years both in terms of methodological soundness and international consultation and cooperation give hope that all is not lost. With consistent and systematic support, it is expected that election observation will continue to play a key role in the European space for many years to come.[1] Amongst the set of methodological publications are the recently published Handbook on Observing and Promoting the Electoral Participation of Persons with Disabilities, the Handbook on the Follow-up of Electoral Recommendations, the Handbook for the Observation of New Voting Technologies and the Handbook for the Observation of Campaign Finance, amongst others. See[2] EUEOMs are coordinated by all branches of the EU system with the HRVP confirming the countries to observe (as suggested by EEAS and in consultation with the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament), the European Parliament often providing the lead observer, supported by experts chosen by EEAS and the Commission and observers picked by them from suggested participants from member states. Kosovo is not an OSCE participating State and on this basis the country has been observed by the EUEOMS and not the OSCE / ODIHR.[3] For a full list of endorsing organizations, see[4] See and[5] If one imagines a financial audit that states that for a company in country X, it is fraudulent to embezzle company funds, but for a company in another country Y, some level of embezzlement is acceptable or can be overlooked, this would be a nonsense line of argument.[6] For stark detail, see, and[7] See, for instance, Merloe (2015) “Authoritarianism Goes Global: Election Monitoring vs. Disinformation”, Journal of Democracy, vol.26, no. 3,[8] See, for instance, and[9] In at least one U.S. State, there is evidence of voter registration data having been changed or deleted, although the incursion was noticed and resolved before it became a problem on election day. With other States, the degree of incursion remains unclear. See and[10] This will become increasingly challenging as more countries turn to new technologies to aid their processes, presenting the danger that a greater part of the process may become ‘black-boxed’. To counter this, credible election observation organizations should pay greater attention to how fundamental principles, such as equality are translated into a technology evaluation framework and to cultivate experts that are knowledge in both elections and technology who can make their findings understandable to the general audience. [post_title] => FPC Briefing-Election Observation in the European Space: The Role of the OSCE/ODIHR, the Council of Europe and EU [post_excerpt] => FPC Research Fellow and former head of the OSCE ODIHR Elections department Dr Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz sets out some of the major challenges facing the practice of effective election observation in the OSCE region. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => election-observation-european-space-role-osceodihr-council-europe-eu [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-13 15:58:11 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-13 15:58:11 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ))

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