Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What Do Election Observers Do?

More than 500 foreign observers were on hand to monitor elections in Ethiopia on Sunday. Among them were 50 delegates from the Carter Center, including the former president himself. What exactly do these international observers do? Most of them run around on the day of the election, take careful notes, and then write up detailed reports. Strategies vary among the different non-governmental and international organizations that do this kind of work; even a single organization might change its procedure depending on local conditions. But with the dramatic increase in election monitoring that began with the fall of the Soviet Union and continued throughout the 1990s, certain standards have begun to emerge.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee began to assemble some basic guidelines in 1990. In 1996, it published a manual for observing elections that breaks the process down into four stages: First, study the election law in the country being observed. Second, send long-term observers to the country in advance of the election, to speak with government officials, party leaders, members of the media, academics or experts, diplomats, and representatives from minority groups. Third, observe the elections at the polling stations on the day of voting. Fourth, review your findings and write up a report.

Continued on Salon.com

Photo Courtesy: (AFP/Marco Longari)
Former US president Jimmy Carter briefs the press in a polling station at the Addis Ababa University. Carter said that with the exception of long lines due to heavy voter turnout Ethiopia's general elections were proceeding smoothly with no major incidents. Ethiopia's opposition backed off a threat to reject nationwide results from the hotly contested elections it says were marred by fraud, saying their complaints were limited to key areas (AFP/Marco Longari)

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