Election Observation in Western democracies

josh wakeford finlandI am regularly asked, when I am observing an election in a western country, like the UK: ‘shouldn’t you be somewhere where democracy is not as established?’ or something equivalent. I then explain that ‘no democracy is perfect’ and justify why we, at Democracy Volunteers, have deployed dozens of observers across areas like Surrey where there is no belief that election observation is necessary.

In fact, I have spoken to those who have observed elections for the OSCE/ODIHR or the EU who also assert that there is no need for election observation in the UK or similar countries. Presumably this is a based in the assumption that not only are these democracies more established but they are also highly functional and deliver accurate results which the public accept.

My disquiet was exacerbated when I attended a conference in 2018, at the LSE, concerning the future of election observation at which a range of speakers talked about observation as if it were something done at people not by people. The deployment of observers acted as a ‘deterrent’ to countries which might attempt to manipulate the electoral process to their own ends.

Democracy Volunteers is a members of GNDEM which is the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors. It has 251 member organisations in 89 countries and territories from across the world as members. Many are active in their pursuit of ensuring that elections are conducted properly in their countries but are also share best practice to ensure that other groups also observe using rigorous processes and established rules.

What concerns me about the attitudes of those in the west is that often it seems that they believe that they have a monopoly on best practice and competency. As a consequence we should export that competency rather than also ensuring our own democracy is fit for purpose.

In 2018, we identified some concerning issues in elections in Western Europe, especially concerning family voting. Without our work in the UK, or those of other domestic observer groups around the world these would not come to light and election authorities would not be able to even consider how to improve the electoral process.

John Ault is Director of Democracy Volunteers

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