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Bad election administration has consequences

Croatians voted in favor of European Union membership in a referendum on Sunday, although turnout was officially placed at 43 percent.  Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic stated that this was a result of an inaccurate and out-of-date voter registry.  If the voter roll was accurate, Pusic claimed, then actual turnout may have been closer to 60 percent of voters.

I’ve previously discussed how I believe that most plebiscites should require some turnout threshold in order for a measure to pass.  Thresholds can prevent a small, driven group of individuals from easily passing beneficial laws assuming the rest of the population isn’t as equally mobilized to stop them.  EU membership is an important issue, so a turnout requirement would make sense here.  When nobody even knows how many voters exist, however, such a rule is impossible.

Bad election managment

From Al Masry Al Youm:

Disabled citizens faced difficulties while voting in this week’s round of parliamentary elections, a number of rights groups have said.

There were no sign language interpreters to help the deaf and the majority of polling stations were located on upper floors, making it difficult for voters in wheelchairs, the Egyptian Coalition for the Disabled in Alexandria said.

[...]Heba Hagras, an Egyptian Bloc candidate who has a disability, also said no facilities were available for those with special needs. Hagras said she found it difficult to go up to the polling stations in her wheelchair. She said one supervising judge refused to leave the voting station to help her.

Mohamed Mokhtar, who also uses a wheelchair, said his polling station was on the third floor and the scrambling of voters made it even more difficult to reach the ballot box.

There are a lot of people with disabilities in Egypt.  This is embarrassing.

Recent election stories around the world

  • Saudi Arabia will allow women to vote and run in the next municipal elections.  They are sham elections, and no word yet if women will be able to drive to the polls, but…baby steps.
  • Zambia averted a potentially horrible outcome in its presidential election when it looked liked post-election violence would escalate.  The violence was a result of a slow counting process, which demonstrates how important effective election management can be in preventing conflict. Luckly the worst was avoided when President Rupiah Banda conceded to challenger Micheal Sata. The election was a rematch of the 2008 presidential poll. In that race,  Banda narrowly defeated Sata by a margin of 40 to 38 percent.
  • Russia will have elections next year but…
  • Bahrain held the first round of legislative elections to fill the 18 seats that were vacated by the Shia Wefaq Party.  Turnout was, not surprisingly, very low.
  • Norwegians went to the polls last Monday to vote for county and municipal councils. This was the first election in Norway since the July 22 terrorist attack that killed 77 people. During the election, voters in ten pilot municipalities had the option of voting via the internet.

Electoral institutions and the cost of elections

To continue the topic in my recent DRC posts, Jay Ulfelder makes a great point about the difficulties poor countries face in holding fair elections.

I’m not suggesting that poor countries should forgo elections. The process is often expensive and messy, but it’s still preferable to the alternative of government by self-appointed rulers. Mostly, I hope the authors of electoral laws and procedures in poor countries will try to design systems that take these challenges into account. For example, why not hold presidential elections in one round instead of two, avoiding the costs and logistical problems of organizing runoffs?

… Not every country can afford every electoral system, and these financial and logistical difficulties ought to be a big part of the rule-making conversation in cases where they loom large.

Jay is bringing up an important, but often forgotten aspect in the study of electoral institutions. Despite not coming up frequently in academic literature, however, I will say that for the most part practitioners are very aware of election administration costs and system design.  There are a few issues, however, that I think we should consider when discussing this.

  • Institutions by nature are (and should be) hard to change. (Liberia just found this out the other week).   If a country makes a decision to create a one-round system, there is a good chance it will believe a one-round system is always the only way it should ever do something, even if the logic behind that decision no longer holds true many years later.  If we are choosing less optimal rules for the sake of cost, there may be long-term consequences down the road.
  • Along the same point about the durability of electoral systems, most countries already have a legacy with a certain system. This could make the debate over changing the rules somewhat irrelevant. That being said, many of the poorest countries only hold elections due to donor pressure, which means the rules should be a little bit more malleable than normal.
  • Political  institutions are highly endogenous to political actors; the case in the DRC is a good example. There will always be winners and losers when rules are changed.  Electoral systems should take into account the capacity of the country, but donors helping make such decisions should consider whether the political fallout from such changes would outweigh any benefits.

Elections in DRC may (will) be delayed

Via Texas in Africathis isn’t terribly surprising.

With just under three months to go until the polls are due to take place, Laurent Ndaye, a senior member of the country’s independent electoral commission (CENI), said equipment such as ballot boxes and voting booths were not yet in the country.

“We’ve proceeded to order the electoral hardware, we’ve paid for more than 70 percent. What’s posing the problem now is to transport all this material (to the Congo),” he said, adding that the kit was in China, South Africa, Germany and Lebanon.

The delays meant that materials will have to be flown in but the U.N. has refused to help so private firms would have to be contracted, raising the costs, he said.

In January, President Kabila’s allies in the legislature pushed through constitutional reforms that changed presidential elections from a two-round system, to a one-round, plurality vote.   Kabila insisted it was a cost-saving measure, although critics (not without merit) accused Kabila of simply rigging the rules to benefit him.  I think they were both right.

50,650,00 eligible voters in upcoming parliamentary elections

Refat Qomsan, Assistant Interior Minister for Administrative Affairs, stated during a seminar yesterday that around 50,650,000 citizens will be eligible to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections.  Qomsan also restated that every polling station will have no more than1,000 voters in an effort to keep polling station congestion at a minimum. My rough calculation of the number of registered voters form the March referendum was 44,995,034 voters, which is not an insignificant difference from the new number.

The voter registry is based off the national ID card, which everybody should have (and which have recently been updated with electronic chips) so the government shouldn’t have that hard a time getting the number right.  I don’t really know of any stories of people being turned away from polling stations from the recent referendum, so the systems has seemed to work alright for now.

Diaa Rashwan, political analyst at the ACPSS, said that dividing voters according to their residential area is a major step, however, the Ministry of Interior also has to coordinate with the Ministry of Health in order to eliminate those who have passed away from the database, referring to the scheme used by the National Democratic Party in previous elections where they used dead citizens’ IDs to vote.

This is encouraging. Sharing lists of citizen data between an EMB and other parts of the government can have many administrative advantages.  Often times, however, the agency in charge of the voter registry is underfunded compared to other ministries and has little clout.  This makes it hard for them to get access to information that would be useful in constructing and maintaining an accurate and up-to-date voter roll.   Seeing as Egypt’s new EMB is essentially controlled by the Interior Ministry, this probably won’t be an issue.

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