International Level of Electoral Governance: On Certain Results of the Research Project

Grishin N.V.


The paper presents some of the results of implementing a 2019–2021 research project called "International Level of Electoral Governance ". The author determines the research rationale and the challenges the project was focusing on. Among other things, the paper presents a list of works published as part of the project. Over its course, the project prioritized international actors involved in the system of public regulation of elections. The mechanisms and forms of international participation within public administration of elections are thus examined as well.

The research project "International Level of Electoral Governance» was implemented in 2019–2021. The Russian Political Science Association (RPSA) served as the organization that provided the conditions for the project. Research team members: Nikolai V. Grishin (St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg State University, project leader), Roman V. Yevstifeyev (Vladimir, RANEPA), Yuri G. Korgunyuk (Moscow, INION RAS), Olga S. Morozova (Ryazan, Ryazan State University). The team is cross-regional, and its members have considerable experience in studying public administration issues in the field of elections. Three of the team members in particular were involved in a previous research project on state electoral policy (public policy and administration in the field of elections).

The project was focused on facilitating research of participation of international organizations in the public regulation of elections — a subject area that has been rapidly expanding since the late 20th century. The practice of international participation in election governance is currently developing new forms, creating innovative mechanisms, and is characterized by the diversity and complexity of its actors.

The late 20th century saw the creation of the first international actors, whose activities mainly focused in the electoral process. In 1991, the Electoral Assistance Division was established within the UN, as was the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights within the CSCE. Establishing international associations of electoral management bodies becomes a form of international cooperation, the earliest example being the Association of European Election Officials (ACEEEO) created in 1991 and the latest — the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB) created in 2013. The importance of international consultative entities is increasing: the Venice Commission (since 1990) is one of such entities, and has played an outstanding role in developing and promoting new standards and norms for elections around the world. Now there exist international civil society organizations aimed at promoting the development of electoral institutions, and their influence keeps expanding. One of the first significant entities, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), was founded in 1987. There is a separate group that includes international public organizations focused on election observation (from the first regional international organization — the Asian Network for Free Elections in 1997 — to the establishment of the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors in 2009). The creation of the European Union brought about fundamentally new mechanisms of international interaction in elections. At the same time, some other international regional intergovernmental organizations (the African Union, the Organization of American States) are leading the way in developing specific mechanisms for international participation in organizing and managing national-level elections.

Modern academia clearly lags behind when it comes to studying these processes, and the likely explanation is that the research area in question is in fact multidisciplinary (involving international law, electoral management and public administration in the electoral process, world politics). So far, there has been little integration of these fields of study: for example, public administration of elections has been studied primarily on the scale of nation-states, while the study of global politics and international relations has not paid much attention to international cooperation in electoral process. The paradox is that it is in matters of electoral process precisely that modern international cooperation and globalization processes have reached exceptional milestones.

Our project was intended as a comprehensive study of international participation in public administration of elections that would attempt to fill the many gaps that exist in this field of knowledge.

The increased international influence on electoral process raises a number of practical and theoretical issues. It also gets more and more criticism from experts and officials in certain countries, who stress that international influence contradicts with the principle of national sovereignty. The phenomenon of international governance in electoral process, which emerged during the wave of democratization in the late 20th century, is now facing particular difficulties, meeting growing resistance from many national governments and political forces. International participation in the electoral management system found itself requiring certain adjustments. The question therefore is: are the shortcomings of international participation mechanisms in electoral administration temporary phenomena typical of the "growth period," or do they indicate that an efficiency level has been reached?

The project's strategy is to study the following thematic blocks: system of actors in the process of international governance of elections, participation mechanisms of the international community in election regulation, analysis of the main directions of participation of the international community in the regulation of the institute of elections.

The project's results can be found in the articles published by its participants, reports at Russian and foreign scientific conferences and the monograph covering the subject of the project. The results of the three-year project were also presented on October 15, 2021 as part of a section called "Political Regulation and Reforms in Electoral Process" that was specially organized at the conference called "Russian Statehood on the Way to the Future: Traditions and Trajectories of Political and Legal Reforms" (hosted by RANEPA branch in Vladimir). In order to disseminate the results of the project, we created a Facebook page and a website.

A number of grant publications examined selected international actors involved in issues of public regulation in the electoral process. Olga S. Morozova prepared a series of papers that were the first papers in Russian to analyze the experience of individual international actors in electoral process, including intergovernmental organizations like the Commonwealth of Nations [10], the African Union [11] and the International Organization of La Francophonie [9]. Non-governmental organizations covered in the papers included the European Network of Elections Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) [12], the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) [8] and the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) [7]. Public participation of international NGOs in the electoral process was one of the "blank spots" in academia. So far, papers in English only covered international election observation and assistance programs of domestic NCOs (meaning they effectively only considered "foreign" non-governmental observation). Our project was the first to focus on the activities of international NGOs in this field. We prepared articles on election observation done by international NGOs rather than national. In addition to the above-mentioned works by Olga Morozova that dealt with specific organizations (ENEMO, ECES, ANFREL), the project ensured publication of Nikolai Grishin's articles on general issues of international NGO participation in electoral governance [1; 3]. The project also revealed how the role of NGOs in the system of international electoral governance changed. That is, in the late 20th century, they sought to steer electoral politics by directly influencing national states, but at the present stage there are other subjects of global governance, including intergovernmental organizations (UN, European entities) that are becoming their main partners. Since these organizations can influence electoral practices by sidestepping national governance level, their development contributes to th weakening role of national states in the system of electoral governance.

Modern development of international governance in the field of elections implies, first of all, the development of new types of actors in this process. The emergence and spread of international "electorally focused" NGOs is only one manifestation of this process. The role of traditional international intergovernmental organizations (such as the UN), which were dominant in the middle and second half of the 20th century, is either diminishing or being transformed. Modern international intergovernmental organizations, which have taken the lead in regulating elections (OSCE, Venice Commission, etc.) are much less dependent on national governments. The current evolution of the subjects of international election management puts attempts to create the first ever supranational election commissions at center stage research-wise. Attempts to create such a supranational electoral authority are most persistently made within the European Union. The long-delayed process of creating a supranational electoral commission within the EU (the EU Electoral Authority) was the subject of an article published in the British journal "European Politics and Society" [2]. Using neofunctionalism methodology, the article analyzed the forces that affect the process of creating a new type of supranational governing body and examined potential risks associated with the project of a European electoral authority proposed by Andrew Duff.

Several publications by Yuri Korgunyuk examined the unique case of the Organization of American States in the field of elections. Several achievements can be attributed to this organization. The author notes that "the activities of the Organization of American States in the field of election administration and observation allow us to call it a laboratory for the development and testing of international standards in the field in question" [5]. In the early 1960s, it was the OAS that launched the practice of international election observation. Other innovative processes used by this organization did not receive sufficient coverage either in Russian or English academic literature. Yuri Korgunyuk's paper was the first to analyze and evaluate the format of international electoral standards proposed by this organization (as an official standard of the International Organization for Standardization — ISO). The paper also looked at peculiarities of decision-making in developing an electoral standard, as well as the specific role played by the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation (DECO) in the OAS governing bodies [6].

Systematizing information about modern international actors involved in the public regulation of the institute of elections resulted in the creation of a database. The database provides information on more than 40 international organizations that mostly deal with matters related to electoral process. The very first such organization dates back to 1987. Some of these organizations are intergovernmental (mostly associations of electoral authorities). There is the most numerous and active subgroup of associations of watchdog NGOs that stands out in particular.

One of the most pressing issues in discussing international influence on the electoral process is that of the extent to which this influence contributes to democratization and the "purity" of elections (primarily in countries outside the circle of stable Western democracies). Several works by Roman Yevstifeyev addressed this issue [13; 14]. Yevstifeyev focused on the so-called "disputed elections" and "elections that cause conflict". The author contributed to the development of the concept of "contentious elections" proposed in 2015 by Pippa Norris. The study of the latest data on the promotion of elections by international organizations and the dynamics of the political regime helped clarify ideas about the dysfunctions and mistakes of international actors trying to influence the improvement of the quality of the electoral process.

One of the main tools for international actors to influence the development of elections as an institution at the national level is the official experience-based recommendations that international observers present. It is well known that OSCE countries secured a commitment to implement the recommendations of OSCE observation missions back in the 1990s. Other regions of the world also have various mechanisms that force national governments to follow the recommendations of international observers. Curiously, however, there has been no research so far into the subject matter of these recommendations. In 2021, research team members Yuri Korgunyuk and Olga Morozova prepared an article that was the first ever academic attempt at a comparative study of the subject matter of recommendations proposed by international observers. The article contains a comparative analysis of recommendations submitted after election observation missions by the three leading observer organizations: the OSCE, the Organization of American States, and the African Union. The authors identified the aspects of election management that international observers from these organizations pay attention to. There also turned out to be a correlation between the structure of election complaints and the level of democracy in the country. The results of this study were also presented by the authors at a scientific conference in Vladimir in October 2021.

Several publications are devoted to international election observation. Our project is the first to attempt to identify the main models of national state policy with regard to the institution of international observation [4]. At the same time, policies of national governments that promote openness and facilitate the work of international observers are interpreted based on constructivism, and those of governments that seek to restrict international observers — based on realism. The most important contemporary developments in the policies of nation-states toward the institution of international observers were identified. Attempts by Russia, Azerbaijan and Belarus to change the format of OSCE observation missions and place them under the control of member states of this international organization were analyzed in particular.

The authors also developed a separate article that systematizes the history of formation and development of international election observation. The main historical forms of international surveillance were identified and the events that led to their change or transformation were analyzed. A historical perspective on the institution of international observation is important for understanding the causes of current crisis trends and for predicting the future.

Nikolai Grishin's monograph "International Level of Electoral Governance" was among the project's results as well. The monograph examines the basic directions the international community is taking when dealing with elections (first of all, development of international electoral standards, election observation, election assistance), issues in preparing and executing recommendations of international observers, debating points on state sovereignty in the context of increasing activity of international community in the electoral sphere.

The conclusions of the research project deal with assessing the current development level of the international involvement in the public regulation of elections. Electoral politics has become the sphere of social relations in which international involvement has reached the greatest depth. The institutional design of international participation in electoral administration may have been ahead of its time, and, at any rate, does not correspond to the current state of relations between international actors and national governments. We can assume that globalization in the modern world objectively has not yet reached the level that the institutions of international participation in election management have. Modern institutions for developing international electoral standards or international election observation block the influence of nation-states on these phenomena. In the context of the 21st century, international NGOs have more institutional power to influence these issues than major countries even. There is a conflict-ridden structural contradiction between the national and supranational levels of government in the field of elections.

Received 14.11.2021.


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