Standards and Principles of Electoral Administration

An election is the largest and most complex logistical operation that a country ever undertakes in peacetime.  This is often not well understood, and indeed, the better an election is run, the simpler it looks.  Committed, ethical, professional and confident people are the key to increasing the prospects of running a good election, in both emerging and more established democracies.

BRIDGE concentrates on the principles underlying all properly run elections, while drawing examples of different practical approaches from many different countries.  It does not seek to prescribe any one model for implementing those principles, but rather encourages participants to learn from the diverse examples presented. Participants are encouraged to share their experiences and opinions in a non-threatening environment. BRIDGE is participant-focused. The BRIDGE-accredited facilitators are rigorously selected and trained in the skills of creating and sustaining a learning environment which is conducive to open-minded discussion, responsive to concerns related to cultural diversity, and also to draw out the experiences of participants equally, and in doing so to connect participant’s lived experience directly to abstract concepts and legal documents.

This introduction Module is one of the two BRIDGE Foundation Modules. These Foundation Modules serve to introduce and examine the standards, principles and management techniques that are fundamental to good electoral practice. This Module also aims to introduce participants to the three Thematic Groups in BRIDGE and to provide some brief examples of the sorts of activities participants can expect to find in the 21 modules that make up those Thematic Groups.

These Thematic Groups are:

Electoral Architecture

These modules are grouped because of their strategic nature, they are all broader than one electoral cycle, require 5 to 10 year plans, and comprehensive consultation processes. They have the following in common:

  1. Comparative theory & models
  2. Advantages / disadvantages / options
  3. Design criteria and design process
  4. Consultation and public outreach
  5. Technical needs assessment
  6. Strategic Reform Plan

Working With Stakeholders

These modules are grouped because they: (a) Define who the stakeholders are, (b) define what their special interests in elections are, (c) define what their special needs for each part of the electoral process are, (d) describe where stakeholders can positively and negatively impact electoral processes, and the EMB

They also have the following in common:

  1. Examining strategies for successful relationships: (a) Consultation, (b) Communication
  2. Comparing a good versus a bad relationship (creating the imperative)
  3. Focus on stakeholder needs assessment

Electoral Operations

These modules are common because they all focus on the operational requirements of all aspects of the electoral process. They all focus on the following:

  1. Needs Assessment
  2. Operational Planning
  3. Logistics
  4. Budgeting and Finance
  5. Procurement
  6. Sustainability, and
  7. Monitoring and Evaluation

In this module we assess the criteria for free and fair elections; the standards and principles of good electoral administration, e.g. neutrality, accuracy, respect for the electoral law, professionalism, sustainability, etc., codes of conduct for members of an EMB, the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network and how it can be used in electoral administration.

Some of the key understandings underpinning this module are that societies organise themselves around value systems and that elections are one way of recognising a diversity of values in social groups. Through activities we explore the importance of respecting diverse opinions in a democracy where minority voices also count and the reasons for having elections such as a peaceful mechanism to agree on how to be governed (and the alternatives to having elections such as autocratic rule). Each electoral democracy chooses its own methods of selecting its representatives by adopting a system but for it to be credible the process should be based on accepted standards and principles. We discuss why certain values and principles underpin good electoral practices by deconstructing the definition of ‘free and fair’ elections and exploring the criteria associated with the terms.

In linking working lives to principles, this BRIDGE module asks participants to explore various conceptual propositions, eg that good governance and ethical behaviour should form the building blocks of an EMB. We look closely at the ethical basis of decision-making and relate this to the work of an electoral administrator. Through role-play situations we identify the principles underlying professional EMB staff which may be potentially compromised, such as impartiality, accountability and transparency. Also by comparing and contrasting different Codes of Conduct of EMBs we consider ways to instil a commitment to ethical behaviour and professionalism. As different electoral systems deliver different political outcomes we need to study the various regulatory levels/instruments which comprise the legal structure of electoral processes from the constitution to electoral law to media, political party or even nationality laws.

The module touches on critical aspects of the work of all electoral management bodies – such as developing productive relationships with stakeholders, facilitating the accessing of electoral processes by all groups in society, coordinating the public outreach programs, and of course, planning for an electoral event using project management tools.

The Seven Cross-Cutting Themes of the BRIDGE curriculum are introduced in this module:

  • Gender: the access to and inclusion of women in all electoral processes
  • Sustainability: this includes the cost of election processes, capacity development, institution strengthening and documenting processes/materials
  • Technology: its use and potential impact on Electoral Processes
  • Environment: measures to ensure that the electoral process has minimal negative impact on the environment
  • Access: ensuring that groups traditionally marginalized, e.g. disabled and ethnic/political minorities have access to all electoral processes
  • Integrity: measures to ensure transparency, prevention of fraud and the credibility of the electoral process
  • Conflict management: measures to avoid conflict situations and to deal with them if they occur

The Introduction Module serves as a showcase and establishes the appropriate pedagogical and ethical framework for the rest of the course. BRIDGE uses a methodology based on adult learning principles, prioritising activity-based teamwork and experiential learning.  It reflects the insight that people learn best when they take responsibility for their own learning, and are faced with material that is relevant to them and presented in a memorable and innovative way. Using this methodology, rather than relying on lecturing, participants get to know each other and have the chance to build bridges within their own organisation, or between different organisations, countries and cultures. Each topic area within the module offers a range of interactive activities designed to convey clearly identified key understandings, and to achieve specified learning outcomes.  The aim is to develop knowledge and skills in areas that are important in an electoral administrator’s day-to-day work, with an emphasis on understanding the relationships between tasks in order to meet tight deadlines effectively.


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