Election Universe

IFES and DI seek international consensus on Election Audits

IFES and DI seek international consensus on Election Audits
May 05 2015, 15:22

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and Democracy International (DI) recently published a white paper titled “Election Audits: International Principles that Protect Election Integrity”, which provides guidance to election commissions on how to conduct successful post-election audits in developing democracies and post-conflict environments.

The investigation, authored by S. Darnolf, K. Ellena, E. Lippolis, E. Shein and C. Vickery from IFES as well as D. Murphy, J. Ober and N. Rasmussen from DI, offers references from experiences gathered in electoral processes in Afghanistan, Haiti and Kosovo, among other nations around the world.

One of the main points discussed in the paper is that post-election audits should only be conducted when necessary “in limited circumstances and according to clearly defined rules,” that is, when the audit is likely to increase the credibility of the election outcome. The researchers argue that while “an audit is usually part of the standards and procedures codified in the legal framework for preconceived electoral certification process” [i.e. Electronic voting certifications]; in certain situations in which an ad hoc audit process is proposed to settle electoral disputes, the auditing process –if not “conducted in a fair, transparent, impartial, and uniform manner”- could undermine the credibility of electoral management bodies, and public confidence in the results or the entire electoral system.

Following concrete and clear procedures when conducting post-election audits helps dispute resolution processes, and also strengthen the integrity of electoral commissions. The white paper warns of preventing political misuses, “It is essential to avoid a situation in which an audit is used as a tactic to prolong an electoral contest or delay a political transition.”

The study offers recommendations to create a set of international standards for election audits, including:

1. Ownership of the audit process. The entity that conducts the election should also be responsible for administering the audit. If it lacks sufficient credibility or capacity, international technical support may be necessary;

2. Predetermination and uniform application of procedures. The regulatory framework must clearly define standards and procedures, considering the principle of uniformity;

3. Training processes. All stakeholders involved, and particularly those responsible for conducting the audit, should be properly trained to reduce the risk of inconsistencies;

4. Evidentiary requirements. Audits have to be based on facts and consider their reliability (types of evidence, chain of custody, standard operating procedures, continuity of possession, security, and inspection);

5. The right of appeal. Prior to the election, authorities should determine clear appeal mechanisms to address situations in which the results of an audit are not acceptable to various stakeholders;

6. Operational considerations for election managers. Authorities must enforce a code of conduct that promotes transparency and the uniform implementation of procedures by all election officials.

7. The role of candidate agents and observers. The participation of external stakeholders should include clearly communicated procedures, audit site logistics, and accreditation.

Other interesting topics analysed include the differences between the terms “audit” (investigate allegations of fraud or malpractice to determine if the electoral process or results have been manipulated) and “recount” (ballots are tallied again); case study examples of applying ad hoc procedures in contexts with political tension and insecurity; and operative concerns for election commissions and external stakeholders (including internal and international observers).

Download the paper from IFES website: Election Audits: International Principles that Protect Election Integrity.

Image by Simon Cunningham (Lending Memo)