US Falters, Europe Leads in Electoral Integrity

By Thalif Deen

NEW YORK (IDN) — When Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency during a political crisis in June 1975, she arrested hundreds of citizens, suspended civil liberties and imposed strict censorship of the press—temporarily downgrading “the world’s largest democracy” to a near-authoritarian state.

So, when the US Ambassador to New Delhi Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1973-75) was summoned for an end-of-assignment briefing at the White House, as recounted by New York Times columnist William Safire, Moynihan told President Gerald Ford with good-humoured grace: Mr President, if it is of some consolation, the United States is now the world’s largest democracy.

But a new study says the beacon of multi-party democracy, is falling behind on electoral integrity ranking 15th of the 29 countries in the Americas—and the lowest-ranked liberal democracy.

The main areas of weakness in the US are the drawing of the electoral boundaries, the results process, campaign finance and voter registration, according to new findings from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Royal Military College of Canada/Queen’s University.

The three highest-ranking democracies in the world were Finland, Sweden (two countries which now plan to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) fearing threats from Russia) and Denmark.

The report released May 19 by the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) evaluates the quality of elections worldwide. (The report including a full index of countries is available here:

Drawing on the Electoral Integrity dataset release 8.0, the report reveals which countries have the strongest elections, as well the parts of the electoral process where there are problems.

Some of the findings include:

  • In Africa, Cape Verde has the greatest quality of electoral integrity
  • Taiwan, Canada and New Zealand are ranked first for their respective continents
  • Electoral integrity in Russia has seen a further decline, following the 2021 parliamentary elections. Only Belarus ranks lower in Europe.
  • Globally, electoral integrity is lowest in Comoros, Central African Republic and Syria

There have been major concerns about democratic backsliding in recent years, with a Summit for Democracy being launched by the United States Department of State at the end of 2021 to ‘set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies.’

Strong elections, according to the Electoral Integrity Project, “are those that follow democratic principles and international standards across the whole of the electoral process. This includes voter registration, campaigning activities, electoral laws and vote counting”.

Despite concerns about democratic backsliding, the report finds there is little evidence for an aggregate decline in the quality of electoral integrity globally between 2012-21.

“Instead, the problems are more specific to countries, with some seeing major changes, such as a sharp decline in the acceptance of the presidential election results in the United States, as demonstrated by the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol”.

Electoral integrity declined the most in Comoros and Tonga. Electoral integrity increased the most in Burkina Faso and Bulgaria, according to the report.

“Electoral finance was found to be the weakest area of the electoral cycle. The publishing of transparent financial accounts was the area where the world was struggling the most.”

Dr Holly Ann Garnett, of the Royal Military College at Queen’s University in Canada, said: “Transparency in reporting on the sources and uses of campaign funds is the first step towards reducing the barrier that money can be to participation as a candidate or representative, particularly of under-represented groups around the world.”

Prof Toby James, Professor of Politics and Public Policy in UEA’s School of Politics, said: “The report is a call to action for those concerned about democracy around the world. Even those countries that traditionally were strong at holding elections need to look at how they can promote democracy in their own backyard.

“The report provides data designed to help policymakers, campaigners and international organisations identify areas of strength and weakness in electoral processes. These can then identify areas where reforms should be concentrated.”

Footnote: The Electoral Integrity Project is an independent academic study currently directed by Prof James and Dr Garnett and is housed at UEA and Royal Military College of Canada/Queen’s University.

The data is from a comprehensive survey by more than 4,500 expert assessments. The report compares 480 parliamentary and presidential elections in 169 countries around the world. All countries are ranked by the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) Index. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 May 2022]

Image: Cover of Electoral Integrity Report

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