The Role of Election Observers



Election monitors now accompany most every election held around the world. They come from a variety of countries and are usually representing a non-governmental organization.

Denise Dauphinais is a deputy director at I.F.E.S., a global democracy assistance organization. She says the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe or O.S.C.E, is one of the main groups that provide monitoring.

Ms. Dauphinais notes, "They take people from all around the world, put them in a delegation, provide them with briefing and information about the election process and the legal frame work and the social conditions and the political environment in the countries that they're going to be observing in."

Ms. Dauphinais says election observers are usually volunteers who are provided with transportation and hotel costs and some expenses. But they don't normally receive a salary. She also says there is a slight difference between election monitors and election observers.

"An observer is normally someone who is there for a limited period of time, usually a fairly short-term observer," contends Dauphinais. "So you're probably talking a period to be there a period several days before the election, during the election and a few days after the election."

Ms. Dauphinais  says election monitors stay in the country much longer because they are observing all parts of the process from beginning to end. Those components include studying election laws, assessing the openness of candidates' campaigns and analyzing media influence.

"Are state owned media allocating time to the various parties that are contesting the elections," says Ms. Dauphinais. "Is the media being fair to the various parties or, in some instances, is the media actually serving to incite problems."

David Pottie manages election observation and democracy projects for the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, an organization founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Mr. Pottie says election monitoring organizations are usually invited to observe proceedings by a host country.

"Sometimes it rests with the office of the president sometimes it rests with the electoral commission or whatever regulatory body is responsible for the conduct of elections in a particular country," says Mr. Pottie. "So receiving an invitation is certainly an important first step.

Mr. Pottie says most monitoring organizations become involved only when it is clear that they will be well received by a country's major political forces.

"A number-one priority is to respect the sovereignty of the country in question," states Mr. Pottie. "The Carter Center and most other major international election observer organizations do not try to impose themselves on any particular country. We can only work in a country if we are invited guests."

Mr. Pottie says safety is a big concern.

"Election observers in the Carter Center's practice are first and foremost volunteers," says Mr. Pottie. "So one is asking people to place themselves at considerable risk."

Tamara Gallo Olexy organized observers for the recent elections in Ukraine. She says international monitors were very important.

"The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America had over 2,400 international election observers that we specifically coordinated throughout Ukraine," notes Ms Olexy. "Getting a feeling back from all of the observers, they did feel as if they made some sort of impact."

She says impartial observers strengthened the electoral process in Ukraine by providing an independent view.

Ms. Olexy says, "They were able to assist the election observers from both candidates. And they were able to take notice if any violations were occurring and to comment on them to the local election commissions. For the most part, the local election commissions did heed their notice."

Elections are critical times when international participants can have a major influence. Their presence can increase confidence that votes will be counted fairly and that elections will have validity -- which is the essence of democracy. The Iraqi elections, however, may be an exception as very few international monitors will be in the country to observe balloting due to safety concerns. Our next Focus will examine the challenge involved in monitoring this historic election.


This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs