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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs