American University's Center for Democracy and Election Management (CDEM) was established by Dr. Robert Pastor in 2002 during a period that saw an extraordinary expansion of democracy and the increasing professionalism of election commissions. Despite these positive trends, there was not one university in the world that taught its undergraduate and graduate students and mid-career professionals the best practices in democracy and election management. Indeed, there remain questions as to whether a distinct field of election management even exists. This unfortunate omission meant that we were not training a new generation of experts in democracy and election in the U.S. and in a number of emerging and transitional democracies. As a permanent institution merging academic and practitioner perspectives, CDEM has sought to provide an alternative to the ad-hoc, non-academic, and/or partisan institutions and projects.
Our Mission and Activities
CDEM has had three goals and related sets of activities—training and education, applied research, and public engagement. Our broader goal is to pave the way for and strengthen democracy through improved electoral performance. CDEM's specific focus is to advance election management through election management training institutes, election observation missions, poll worker training, applied research, and public engagement both in the U.S. and overseas. We:
- Train and educate election administrators, civil society representatives, journalists, undergraduate and graduate students in the best democratic practices and the most effective, professional, free and fair management of elections. Our education aims to train a new generation of election administrators, poll workers, civil society representatives, and university students to recognize the fragility of electoral systems and institutions. Our training participants are aware of the constraints and opportunities to democratic transition and the need to facilitate administrative and political requirements for legitimate elections acceptable to the major groups in particular countries.
- Undertake applied research that aims to strengthen the field of management by contributing to the growing body of empirical research in the U.S. and overseas. The research, undertaken by scholars from throughout the world, focuses on connecting the world of theory with that of the practitioner. It includes case studies on election management in routine and dangerous settings throughout the world; cross-national and cross-regional comparison and analysis of electoral processes and institutions; and election-mediation as an instrument for resolving civil conflict.
- Contribute to democracy and democratic transitions by actively engaging in the debate and activities aimed at election reform and/or the monitoring of elections in the U.S. and overseas. Education and research are essential elements of the Center, but we also aim to apply that experience by directly engaging in debate and activities to improve policy in the U.S. and democratic transition abroad for two reasons: (1) We have a commitment to service; (2) We know that the best education requires a careful balance between theory and hands-on experience.
Our threefold mission seeks to contribute to the practice, research, and debate on solutions to election management problems and the need for reform of democratic electoral institutions at home and abroad.
Since its establishment, CDEM has pursued the goal of becoming a nexus for education, training, scholarly research, and policy on topics relating to democracy and elections. CDEM has an inter-disciplinary advisory committee composed of professors from the American University schools as well as renowned election experts. This reflects the depth and the breadth of scholarship and teaching, as well as our hands-on approach to democracy.
Many of these scholars and practitioners direct or participate in outstanding centers and institutes that engage in different dimensions of the democratic challenge. CDEM has begun working with other centers at American University to develop synergies under a new umbrella group called Democracy@AU. CDEM and the other centers work to prepare students who are interested in democracy-related careers, and professionals who are engaged in democracy work, by providing a focused, sophisticated educational background not available elsewhere. The Center also benefits from its associations with the policy, governmental, and international institutions in Washington D.C. and in countries targeted by its projects.