Next to an adequate legal framework, regulating elections and the existence of appropriate sanctions against electoral malpractice – such as fines, loss of political mandate and ineligibility – a variety of institutions and practices can contribute to ensuring the integrity of electoral processes and outcomes. This includes the existence of an independent body to manage and oversee elections, the use of technology, free and independent media, as well as independent election monitoring by international and domestic organisations.
The legal framework for elections usually includes constitutional provisions, the electoral law and other laws that may have an impact on elections, such as laws on political parties. In this context, it is instrumental that the overall legal framework governing elections is unambiguous, understandable and transparent.
Moreover, to prevent corruption and ensure a level playing field, election laws should seek to regulate the following:
The law should provide for the establishment of an autonomous and impartial election management body. The law should also clearly define the body’s roles and responsibilities, ensuring that sufficient and timely resources are provided. Among other things, the responsibilities of such bodies usually include the establishment of clear voting procedures, the registration of voters and the management of voter registers, measures to ensure the secrecy of the vote and the integrity of the electoral process, including ensuring the transparent counting and tabulation of votes, and the certification of election results, among others. The law should also clearly define the composition of the election management body, as well as its structure and procedures for the appointment of members.
There should be predefined and clear rules for the inclusion or removal of a voter from the register. In addition, in order to avoid corruption and manipulations, voter registers should be made available for public scrutiny at no cost.
Procedures to count ballots
The law should establish clear procedures for counting ballots, in spite of the method used (manual, mechanical or electronic). Clear rules on the criteria to be used in determining whether a ballot is valid or not should also be defined by law.
Regulations and instructions
In order to avoid abuse of power and manipulation of the process and ensure the stability of the process, the law should establish time restrictions with regard to the passing of amendments to the electoral law. Within this framework, last minute amendments (for example, regarding the time of the election or establishing re-election) should be prohibited. Further elections regulations and instructions to be adopted by the election management body should also be in accordance with the electoral law. In fact, the electoral law should define the areas, situations, and timelines within which the electoral body can issue these instructions.
Abuse of state resources
The election law should explicitly state that state resources may not be used for the purposes of election campaign. The relevant provision should clearly define what constitutes the usage of state resources and what the sanctions for the violation of the rule are.
The law should also strictly prohibit candidates and political parties from giving money, presents or favours in exchange for votes.
The law should ensure that representatives of parties and candidates as well as election observers are allowed to monitor the electoral process, including by having access to voting stations and accompanying the vote counting.
The law should also establish mechanisms through which contestants, political parties and voters can lodge complaints.
The law should establish proportional and dissuasive sanctions for non-compliance, including the disqualification of a candidate.
Access to the media
The law should protect political parties and candidates, ensuring they all have equal access to the media (for example, fair and equal prices for advertisement, fair reporting practices).
In addition to a strong legal framework, external oversight by a neutral and independent electoral commission, international bodies and civil society is paramount in ensuring the integrity of the electoral process and accountability of political parties. In fact, observation of elections by international bodies, civic groups and local political parties can help not only to prevent instances of electoral fraud but also to publicise identified wrongdoings and demand that appropriate measures are taken when these do occur.
Moreover, the oversight exercised by state supervisory bodies can be greatly complemented by the efforts of civil society and media. Monitoring activities of non-governmental organisations in many countries have included identifying, documenting and publicising specific cases of abuse of state resources during elections, monitoring media coverage and potential instances of favouritism, investigating and reporting instances of vote-buying, as well as monitoring and reporting fraud in the registration of voters, tabulation and counting of votes, among others.
Innovations in combating electoral corruption
The use of information and communications technologies (ICT) in the electoral process has become a common practice. Many electoral management bodies are using technology to improve the process and the overall management system. The use of technology aiming specifically at reducing or curbing the opportunities for corruption is less common. However, in the past years the use of biometric voter registration as an anti-corruption tool has been increasing, with several countries in Africa having adopted the system. Within this framework, biometric voter registration has been used to avoid fraud in the voting process, particularly by ensuring the voter’s identity and that he/she only votes once.
However, the effectiveness of such tools to prevent corruption has been disputed. There have been also cases of electoral fraud in the registration of voters (for example, by registering individuals under the legal voting age or foreign nationals) after the introduction of such sophisticated technology, raising doubts on whether the costs incurred to establish the system is worthwhile. According to some experts, biometric voter registration cannot be seen as an anti-corruption tool in itself but should be accompanied by measures to raise the integrity of election management bodies.
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