Watchful eyes keep elections fair

Voters with election observer looking on (© AP Images)
An election observer at a polling station in Nairobi during Kenya’s 2013 election (© AP Images)

The surest way to get fair elections, according to experts, is to have as many eyes as possible on every step of the process. With several countries in Africa holding presidential elections in October and November, citizen groups that monitor elections will play important roles in assuring that the results are fair and credible.

The Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM) represents 190 watchdog groups in 75 countries on five continents. In 2012, the organization launched the Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations in a ceremony at the United Nations. The document spells out standards for citizens who work to keep elections fair.

The document matters because monitoring doesn’t work without a careful plan. “You can’t monitor everything,” said Michelle Brown of National Democracy Institute (NDI), a nonprofit organization that supplies technical assistance to GNDEM’s local watchdogs. “They have to focus,” Brown said. “They have to figure out what are the salient issues that could have the biggest impact.”

People registering and waiting to vote (© AP Images)
A woman registers to vote using a fingerprint reader in Lagos, Nigeria. (© AP Images)

NDI helps the monitors create checklists for use in the field. Groups such as NDI train both long-term observers, who monitor how electoral boundaries are established, voter registration and ballot qualification, and short-term observers, who focus on election-day procedures.

What does it look like when election monitoring is thorough? “Nigeria is a great example,” Brown said. Four prominent civil-society groups representing diverse interests came together to form Project Swift Count to monitor the 2015 Nigerian general election. “They did a very good job of early outreach and making people aware of who they were,” Brown said. “They had a nationwide network, really nice pre-election reports, and then, in a very timely way, released their election-day findings.”

Volunteering your time to help groups that monitor elections is a great investment in fair elections in your country. Contact these organizations in Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Tanzania and Uganda to see how you can help.

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