This module is based around the following organising questions:
The legal framework provides the foundation on which institutions are built. The legal framework is usually set out in a number of interrelated statutes supplemented by regulations.
In most cases the foundation is the constitution, that is, the supreme law of a country. Added to this is other legislation including electoral laws, penal codes and civil rights statutes, as well as regulations and codes of conduct/ethics issued by the different bodies responsible for elections.
The legal provisions contain guidelines for structuring the electoral administration and instructions for electoral administrators on managing elections. They specify the rights and responsibilities of political parties, the media, voters and other participants.
The legal framework authorizes the electoral management body to administer elections according to the structure specified in its provisions. It empowers political parties to raise funds and participate in elections in accordance with the legal provisions. It safeguards the political rights of voters and their right to elect their representatives within the government.
To ensure that election results accurately reflect the will of voters, the legal framework must protect the principles of free, fair and competitive elections. Constitutions entrench the political freedoms needed for competitive elections. Regulations ensure the fairness of the process, equality of opportunity and accountability of all participants. Codes of conduct help prevent unethical behaviour.
In most countries, the legal framework for elections has evolved into a complex combination of statutes, regulations, judicial rulings and actual practice. Some election laws may be new and up to date, while others are outmoded but still in force.
The main reference text booklet for this module is the International IDEA publication International Electoral Standards: IDEA’s Guidelines for Reviewing the Legal Framework of Elections, which discusses a number of issues to consider when designing or reviewing a legal framework for electoral management.