Faculty Advisory Committee Meeting
February 12, 2003

Invited Speakers

  • Dr. Richard Smolka, American University
  • David Hirschmann, American University
  • Paul DeGregorio, IFES


Theme: Electoral Systems and Election Administration

The Seminar was co-chaired by Robert A. Paster, Director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management, and Professor Emeritus Richard Smolka. Seven AU faculty attended the Seminar including Dean William LeoGrande and Professors Jeffrey Reiman, Peter Lewis, Robert Kramer, Hadar Harris, Deborah Brautigam and David Hirschmann. Seven non-AU specialists involved in election management also attended: Roy Saltman, Juliana Geran Pilon, Paul DeGregorio, Charles Call, Robert Ayres, Gail Lecce and Michelle Schimpp. The participants examined the theme by drawing upon election management experiences in a range of countries from all three stages of democratic development including newly democratizing countries, transition countries and advanced countries.

David Hirschmann, Associate Professor and Director, International Development Program of School of International Service, made a presentation highlighting some of the problems of holding local elections. In comparison to national elections, local elections required greater organization and supervision and suffered from greater public ambivalence as a result of scant media coverage and a perception that local governments did not hold any meaningful power. While such conditions made local elections difficult in most countries, they presented a particular challenge for nascent democracies whose elections were more vulnerable to manipulation by national governments or dominant national parties.

Paul DeGregorio, Executive Vice President of International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) delivered a presentation on election management experiences based on recent experiences in Russia and Moldova. To improve election management and electoral systems in developing and transition countries, it would be necessary for: (1) improved professional development for election managers, (2) a mechanism for adjudication of election disputes, (3) a substantial increase in the number of domestic monitors for each election, (4) greater transparency in campaign finance and (5) financial assistance for impoverished countries which cannot afford basic election expenditures.

Robert A. Pastor made a presentation on independent election commissions. A key variable in explaining the success or failure of "first elections" was the existence, credibility, and impartiality of Election Commissions. In cases where independent commissions held the confidence of political parties, such commissions were effective in resolving electoral disputes over administrative irregularities. Of 81 elections judged to be 'flawed' over the past decade, all were contested on the basis of administrative irregularities. Of 50 "first" elections held between 1985-1994, 23 were failed elections, and only 3 of these had independent commissions while in 23 successful elections, 12 had independent commissions and 11 had commissions that were partially independent.

There was some discussion as to what constituted a "successful election." Pastor noted that this was a central issue in election-monitoring, but for the purpose of his study, he found a rather simple criterion. A "successful election" is one in which all the major parties and the international community determine that the election is free.

Each level of democratic development has problems with the conduct of elections, but obviously, the issues are far more serious in those countries with the least experience. Even in advanced democracies such as the United States, election machinery can break down, as it did in the United States in November 2000. The problem in the United States, according to Pastor, is "dysfunctional decentralization" - elections are held in 13,000 counties and municipalities.

Several participants at the seminar suggested that a technical checklist of international standards be used to enhance the credibility and confidence in all elections. Others suggested that the implementation of international standards would likely meet obstacles at the national level given the wide divergences between national laws over the role of political parties and international observers in election management. One participant stated that while a checklist of standards may be desirable to judge the legitimacy of elections, it was also important to recognize the significance that political context played in determining the success of an election. In situations of intense political conflict, each side would likely view any small technical mistake as an attempt to manipulate the election.

Dr. Pastor concluded the discussion noting that these issues would be discussed in further depth at Seminar III "Comparative Democratic Institutions," on March 5, 2003.