“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons (11 November 1947)[1]

Political parties and candidates are key stakeholders in elections. They are the ones competing for public office, carrying out election campaigns, and trying to convince persons to vote for them. Ultimately, the possibilities for them to campaign, assume public office, or form a credible opposition depend on the legal, political, and cultural environment in the country, and on the administration and outcome of the elections. From another perspective, the final validation of the election result is in practice in the hands of the political parties and candidates. If they do not accept the results due to real or perceived electoral fraud or irregularities, the legitimacy of the resulting legislature or government is threatened.

Parties and candidates are also actors that have the potential to be destructive. Practices of vote-buying or illegal party finance, the proliferation of defamation and hate speech in campaigns, voter intimidation by party workers, corruption in decision-making, and the systematic exclusion of certain sectors of society constitute examples of where political parties threaten the functioning of democratic systems rather than support it. Laws and regulations regarding campaigning, funding, and functioning of political parties are developed to minimize the potential disruptive influence of political parties while still allowing them enough freedom to contest elections.” Administration and Cost of Elections[2]

Executive Summary:

It is possible in the middle of operations in a busy electoral process to forget that an EMB has two stakeholders: the first and most obvious are the voters; the second are the contestants, the groups of political parties or independents actually contesting the election. Those contestants are both clients the EMB must serve, as well as groups subject to the EMB’s authority. The referee or umpire role in an EMB’s legal framework is vital when regulating the actions and behavior of these contestants. The nature of politics means this is one of the most contentious and difficult roles that hold some of the biggest risks for an EMB. How an EMB interacts with and makes decisions relating to contestants can determine the perception of their independence, competence and fairness. It is not surprising some of the language we use describing aspirational electoral standards, such as level playing field; perhaps even free and fair, are adapted from sport. As in sport, the law is the first guardian in the game and contest of electoral politics; the second and third are the EMB and the judiciary who interpret and enforce that law. However, voters and contestants have both rights and responsibilities, so the EMB’s role can be a daily balance of monitoring, management, prevention and enforcement.

In this context it is essential that electoral professionals consider the various types of contestants and the contests they compete in, what the contestants’ motivations might be, and how they might be organized. BRIDGE and the resources it uses emphasize there are certain common principles underlying the game of electoral politics, but there are such a variety of contexts they exist in that we apply the adage no size fits all. This is particularly the case when discussing contestants. So the first section of this module deals with different approaches to electoral democracy, ideas behind representation and how it manifests in different electoral systems, and asks participants to create their own party. This is followed by an outline of the types of contestants your EMB might deal with, criteria for registering a political party, and the principles underlying political organization and competition. It concludes with activities looking at the internal functioning of political parties, and the role of Codes of Conduct for the regulation of party and candidate behaviour.

The second section of the Module keeps the broad view of Contestants to look at them and their interactions with the EMB through all parts of an electoral process, for example, boundary delimitation, voter registration, voter education, pre-polling, polling, counting and certification of results. Often during these other parts of an electoral process an EMB might find contestants to be groups who can be engaged in very positive ways to improve the quality of the process. There are moments in the electoral process where the EMB’s and contestants’ interests overlap: getting the eligible population to register and to vote, monitoring the behavior of their competitors as party agents and reporting infringements, and knowing the facts presented in voter information and education campaigns. Well informed and well trained party agents acting within the law and a Code of Conduct can go a long way to protecting an electoral process. Hence this part of the module challenges participants to find strategies to coordinate with and mobilize contestants in an informed and appropriate way, so contestants can become educators on those electoral operations, and seek to engage their potential constituents in ways that are beneficial to the electoral process.

The third section of the module takes the participant straight into the quite technical business of managing contestants during a crucial part of any electoral process: candidate nominations. One of the most significant and central challenges for an EMB is to ensure ballot papers for every voter arrive at every polling station on time with the correct name of the correct candidate in the correct place. When you take away the logistical aspects, it is accurate candidate nomination that determines an EMB’s success at this most vital task. Success will often be invisible to voters and candidates (they expect the ballot paper to be accurate), but failure could be obvious and nationally embarrassing. If you are satisfied with a 95% accuracy rate, it might mean in a local government election with 200 constituencies you would be satisfied you only had to re-run 10 elections because the EMB caused ballot papers in 10 constituencies to be wrong. Perhaps even 5% inaccuracy can damage an EMB’s and therefore an election’s overall credibility.

Finally, some EMBs are not involved in regulating political campaigns and therefore invest their time after nominations with polling and counting preparations, while others have also to fulfill legal responsibilities towards the contestants, their political party’s organization and their campaigns. In that regard we will examine Contestants’ Codes of Conduct, financing and media time during the campaign and the various roles an EMB might be asked to perform, particularly at the level of an Electoral Commission or other quasi-judicial electoral body.

[1] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Winston_Churchill, 8 August 2006

[2] http://www.aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/pc/default, 8 August 2006


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