Electoral Insight – New Ways of Building Democracy
The ACE Project – Toward Information Resource-Based Electoral Assistance
Deputy Director (Information Resources), IFES
Former Project Officer (Communications), Elections Canada
As election administrators around the globe focus on the coming millennium, they could well celebrate also the achievements of the recent past. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, election administrators successfully organized and implemented hundreds of elections that could not even have been imagined during the Cold War.
Until now, newly established democracies have relied heavily on the knowledge and expertise of professionals from the world's leaders in election administration. Electoral bodies like Elections Canada have played an integral role in the success of electoral events around the globe by sharing their personnel with developing democracies when there was need. While expert personnel will always be required, the focus is now turning to creating and disseminating election-related information resources which election administrators can use themselves to improve the techniques and procedures they use.
With this strategy, countries that would otherwise be hard-pressed to pay for their electoral process without assistance from an international donor can achieve significant administrative and cost efficiencies. The information resource-based approach will add to the sustainability of elections in new democracies.
What is ACE?
Recognizing a significant opportunity for democratic advancement while observing the minimal information resources yet available, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), and the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) joined forces in 1997 to construct the first-ever on-line encyclopedia on election administration and costs.
Launched at the United Nations in 1998, the Administration and Cost of Elections (ACE) Web site (www.aceproject.org) and CD-ROM project brought together leading international organizations to produce a comprehensive resource for election administration, including information on the range of election alternatives available, the advantages and disadvantages of these alternatives, and the administrative and cost implications associated with each of them. The resulting documentation includes over 5 000 pages of information, with 3 000 pages of newly written text and 2 000 pages of case studies from various countries, scanned samples (such as ballots and voter education materials), and other useful information, such as bibliographies for additional research and electronic links to other election-related Web sites.
In developing the strategic plan for the project, the ACE Steering Committee and Project Management Team, composed of representatives from the partner organizations, laid out a variety of objectives: to increase knowledge and enhance learning about democratic electoral processes; to promote transparency, accountability, professionalism, and efficiency in electoral processes within the broader context of democratic development; to provide alternative frameworks and guidance to election officials and policy-makers seeking to strengthen national electoral systems; to encourage the use of good practices in electoral administration; to identify cost-effective elements in electoral system design and administrative practice; and to highlight the innovations in electoral administration originated by various countries.
These goals have been realized through information organized into nine topic areas representing the principal components of democratic elections: electoral systems, legislative framework, electoral management, boundary delimitation, voter registration, voter education, parties and candidates, voting operations, and vote counting.
Why Is the Material Needed?
ACE Project partners Nitin Desai of the UN, Bengt Säve-Söderbergh of International IDEA, Richard Soudriette of IFES, and Project Co-ordinator Harry Neufeld celebrate the release of the ACE CD-ROM.
The need for an accessible and comprehensive collection of information on the myriad alternative approaches to all aspects of election administration – from the drafting of constitutional language to the counting of votes – has been evident for some time.
The ACE Web site and CD-ROM represent a milestone contribution to the strengthening of the democratic process. They provide election administrators, legislators, assistance agencies, and academics all over the world with analytical and comparative texts and good-practice examples for use in organizing, supporting, or studying free and fair elections. By highlighting ways to reduce the costs of administering elections, the encyclopedia will assist in increasing the sustainability of electoral processes.
The enormous amount of information collected, and the expense of providing (and updating) this information in paper form, led to the decision to publish this compendium electronically. The increasing availability and affordability of computers, the worldwide accessibility of the Internet and the dramatic reduction in costs for the production of CD-ROMs made this option feasible.
A hard-copy user's guide was prepared, and first released in conjunction with the recent Global Electoral Organization (GEO) Network Conference held in Ottawa from April 11 to 14, 1999. The ACE User's Guide serves as a quick reference guide to the ACE Web site and CD-ROM. It is also a means of offering those without access to the ACE Web site or to CD-ROM technology a brief overview of the ACE material so that they can request additional information from one of the partner organizations.
This first version of ACE, "Version 0," is intended as an initial information base from which to build a more comprehensive, globally-inclusive resource. Election officials, policy-makers and academics from around the world have been asked to review the material. Feedback will serve as a basis for updating and expanding the site.
Electoral Bodies Make ACE Multilingual
The ACE material was initially written in English, but partnerships were forged to make the information more accessible worldwide. On October 22, 1998, Elections Canada signed an agreement with the ACE partners in New York, assuming leadership for translating "Version 0" into French. Elections Canada undertook this project with the financial support of two other Canadian partners, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The Instituto Federal Electoral, Mexico's electoral body, has taken responsibility for translating the ACE material into Spanish. Other partners will translate the text into Russian.
Translating such on-line text is a challenge. At Elections Canada, the translation team is also creating a new French-English glossary and a lexicon for each topic area, adding French examples to the ACE Project, and adding case studies from French-speaking countries. The team is scheduled to complete the translation before the end of December 1999. Four of the nine topics are already available on the Web site (see: www.aceproject.org).
The ACE Web site and CD-ROM are innovative tools, already in use by election professionals around the globe today. The government of Côte d'Ivoire, for example, recently expressed interest in using three of nine topic areas as a source of documentation for the preparation of their next presidential election in year 2000. The material has been actively used by election administrators in other countries preparing for elections, including Nigeria, Indonesia, and Bosnia. While working on translations of the ACE material, the project partners continue to assemble three new topic areas, Media and Elections, Election Technology, and Electoral Integrity. They are also preparing to carry out training projects to help electoral organizations make efficient use of the textbase created for this project. In addition, the partners are actively soliciting input from election professionals for revisions of the initial text. Keeping the information accurate and up-to-date remains a priority.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.