Comparative Assessment of Central Electoral Agencies
This study could not have been completed without the co-operation and support of a number of institutions and individuals, and the authors would like to thank them sincerely and publicly for their contribution to the production and quality of this report.
We start with Mr. Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, who invited us to undertake the study, made the resources of his Office available to us and wrote a letter of introduction to the other five national electoral authorities, asking them to co-operate with the researchers by providing confidential interviews and directing us to relevant sources.
During the course of the study, we benefited greatly from the active support and informed advice of a number of experienced professionals at Elections Canada. Our initial discussions about the aims and scope of the study were conducted with Mr. Belaineh Deguefé, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Integrated Services, Policy and Public Affairs. Our ongoing contact through the course of the study was with Mr. Alain Pelletier, Acting Director, Policy and Research, and his colleague Ms. Sophie-Natacha Robichaud, Senior Policy Coordinator. Mr. Stéphane Perrault, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Legal Services, Compliance and Investigations, provided legal input along the way and consented to a confidential interview. No doubt other Elections Canada staff, not known to the researchers, provided advice on the project, as well as the administrative support that made our task easier. In addition to thanking our colleagues at Elections Canada for their willingness to share their expert knowledge in a frank manner, we also want to thank them for respecting the principle that this was an independent research project, and the conclusions are those of the researchers.
Our assessment of the governance arrangements for Elections Canada took us to five other countries – unfortunately, not through travel but only through telephone interviews. Following up the letter of introduction from the Chief Electoral Officer at Elections Canada to the senior official of the EMBs in Australia, India, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, we managed to conduct confidential interviews with representatives of those offices in four of those countries. In the case of the US, the current difficulties being experienced in the two national election commissions meant that no official was available from either. Thus, as an alternative, we interviewed an electoral law specialist with four decades of front-line experience in the field. The names of the interviewees are listed in Appendix F. We offer a sincere thanks to all those individuals who so generously shared their time, expertise and candid insights into the little studied world of electoral governance. It is a cliché, but true, to say that this report could not have been completed without the benefit of the kind of distinctive, specialized knowledge that they contributed to the study.
Finally, we would like to thank the women in our lives, Ellen (Lorne) and Roberta (Paul), for their understanding and patience as we preoccupied ourselves with producing a report that they probably would consider a dry-as-dust document on an obscure topic. It is our job to persuade them that understanding and upholding the fundamental principles of electoral democracy is important. We hope the report convinces them and others.
Note to the Reader
This comparative assessment of selected electoral management bodies (EMBs) was commissioned by Elections Canada. The authors were engaged to look at the electoral commissions in Australia, India, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States and to compare the strengths and weaknesses of these EMBs with those of the Canadian federal model as represented by the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. The observations, comparative assessment and conclusions are those of the authors.
This study was commissioned by and developed in collaboration with Elections Canada. The descriptions, analyses and conclusions presented in the study are those of the authors, not Elections Canada.
The purpose of the study was to provide an analysis of the governance arrangements for national elections in Canada compared to the arrangements in Australia, India, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The comparative assessment focuses on the following components of the electoral governance in each country:
- The national context
- The legal mandate and the principles and values of the electoral management body (EMB)
- The structure and composition of the EMB
- The scope of responsibilities of each EMB, how it is resourced and how it operates to achieve its mandate
- The nature of the accountability relationships of the EMB with other parts of government
- The organizational challenges faced by each EMB
The assessments of the six countries are guided by a set of criteria presented briefly in the body of the report and discussed at length in Appendix A. These criteria are:
- Clear legal authority
- Impartiality and fairness
- Professionalism and expertise
- Stability, consistency and reliability
- Economy, efficiency and effectiveness
- Transparency, responsiveness and accountability
The methodology for the study consisted of a selective review of the secondary academic literature, an analysis of official documents and websites in the six countries and the conduct of a series of semi-structured, confidential interviews with officials in the six countries.
The main sections of the report consist of an overview of the findings from the six country case studies, more detailed analyses of the electoral arrangements in each of the countries and a brief conclusion that draws some possible lessons for Elections Canada.
The overview findings include the following observations:
- The national context – the geography, history, political traditions, constitutional order, the dynamics of power among different parts of the political system and the issues that have arisen around the electoral process – have all shaped the electoral arrangements in each country.
- All six EMBs operate along a boundary between the partisan political process and a professional electoral governance and administration process, but the exposure to undue political pressure varies among the countries.
- The distribution of authority, initiative and power within the political system is an important factor that shapes electoral governance arrangements, and, on this dimension, the political system of the US, which operates on a presidential-congressional model, has followed a fundamentally different approach than the Cabinet-parliamentary countries of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Put simply, the US has built partisanship into the governance arrangements, whereas the other countries have sought to distance electoral management from partisanship.
- The balance between, on the one hand, independence and professionalism and, on the other, accountability and responsiveness to the political process depends on a number of factors in the governance arrangements: how the mandate of an electoral body is set and modified, how the members of each body are appointed and removed, how an electoral body obtains its budget and staffing, the requirements for reporting, the strictness of the scrutiny of its performance and the consequences that flow from that performance.
- Among the EMBs examined in this study, Elections Canada has the longest history of operation as an independent body led by a professional, impartial administrator. The other countries have all chosen to create multi-member commissions to oversee the electoral process, adopting a variety of different legal, structural and procedural arrangements to achieve what is seen in each country as the appropriate balance between independence and professionalism and accountability and responsiveness.
- The EMBs in the six countries face challenges distinctive to their own context, but there is also a significant commonality to the issues and challenges confronting them.
The brief conclusion to the study elaborates on the following three points:
- Elections Canada operates on a sound governance framework and has a strong reputation both domestically and abroad as a model of independence, professionalism and integrity in the field of electoral administration.
- The comparative assessment suggests that independence and other fundamental values of electoral democracy can be achieved under a number of different organizational formats, including a single-headed agency, a multi-member commission that is strictly non-partisan and a hybrid model that includes both independent and politically aligned commissioners. The dysfunctional status of the two bipartisan commissions in the US provides a warning against allowing partisan political considerations to become central to the structure and procedure of an electoral commission.
- The six EMBs face many common challenges that arise from changing political conditions and practices in modern democracies. The ongoing revolution in information technology (IT) is both driving and enabling changes in the campaign and electoral processes. IT is pushing in the direction of greater integration and consolidation of various electoral administration activities rather than toward fragmentation and organizational separation.