Secondary menu

Comparative Assessment of Central Electoral Agencies

Appendix A – Defining the Criteria for Assessment

The criteria that we used to conduct the comparative assessment of the six electoral governance arrangements are defined as follows:

The capacity to act independently matters more in relation to some functions of an EMB than others. Independence is crucial, for example, with respect to such legal and quasi-legal functions as regulation, investigation, adjudication and enforcement, all functions for which both actual and perceived impartiality and fairness must exist. Independence is also important when the mandate of the EMB requires it to provide independent policy advice that is informed by expert knowledge and devoid of political considerations. Many EMBs are also expected to engage in communication and educational outreach activities, and these activities should ideally be conducted in an independent, non-partisan manner. Independence is usually less complete with respect to such administrative matters as budgeting and staffing, where an EMB is required to negotiate with other parts of the governmental system.

An EMB cannot claim autonomy just because it is administratively convenient or even because a certain degree of independence has been long-standing. Rather, independence must be justified by upholding the essential values and properties of the institution, which are seen to be necessary for promoting a healthy democracy.

There are both procedural and substantive aspects to the notion of an impartial and fair election process. Regarding procedure, the law must be applied with diligence and due process, and there must be no hint of bias or favouritism. In terms of substance, decisions must be based on the provisions of the law, an accurate and valid interpretation of the facts and the application of sound professional judgments.

Over time, there will be changes in the political system, IT, public opinion and so on, and these changes may require modifications to the electoral governance arrangements. Given the central importance of such arrangements to achieving a healthy democracy, any such institutional modifications should preserve the underlying foundational principles and the distinctive competencies that an EMB will have developed over time.

A broader measure of the effectiveness of EMBs is achieving quality elections, a term that is subjective and therefore potentially controversial. For our purposes, a quality election takes place when there is strong and informed elector participation, when there are no or few instances of illegalities or attempts at undue influence and when the results are seen to be accurate and legitimate. Very few attempts have been made to develop an assessment framework identifying empirical measures of quality that could be used to compare different countries or compare improvement over time in a single country (Elkit and Reynolds 2005).

Transparency is a highly prized value in a democracy because it supports the public's right to know. Transparency is also a means of supporting both effectiveness and accountability in electoral management. It can help to prevent, detect and correct election irregularities. It provides one basis for informing and educating the public; it also provides a basis for holding EMBs accountable for their performance (Mozaffar and Schedler 2002, 10).

Responsiveness refers to the openness of an EMB to changing conditions in the external environment and its willingness to adjust its policies and practices to meet emerging challenges. It involves consulting with citizens, parliamentarians and party officials to obtain feedback and advice on how the electoral process can be improved. The relationship between an EMB and political parties involves an inherent tension: they are the primary targets of the rules governing elections, but at the same time, parties in government and the legislature assign the EMB its mandate and grant it the authority and resources needed to perform its functions. The ideal relationship between an EMB and party officials might be described as "cordial, but not cozy." Both the actuality and the appearance of undue responsiveness to partisan and political concerns must be avoided.

In general, accountability means being required to answer for the exercise of authority and the use of public money based on providing valid information about performance. Electoral administration involves exercising discretionary authority and professional judgment within the framework of both the "hard law" of legislation and regulations and the '"soft law" of administrative policies and codes of conduct. Formal rules set the boundaries for behaviour, but controversial situations will arise that require judgment about the facts, the interpretation of the rules and how they should be applied. When an EMB exercises discretion, its neutrality or competence can be challenged – hence, the insistence on accountability.