Pippa Norris  is the McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and ARC Laureate Fellow and professor of government and international relations at the University of Sydney. Richard Frank is a research fellow at the University of Sydney. Ferran Martinez I Coma is a research associate at the University of Sydney. They are all affiliated with the Electoral Integrity Project.

In many countries, polling day ends with disputes about ballot-box fraud, corruption and flawed registers. In countries such as Cambodia, Thailand and Maylasia, for example, recent elections ended in mass protests, opposition complaints and political stalemate. The consequences undermine regime legitimacy and public trust and confidence in electoral authorities.

Where there are disputes, however, which claims are accurate? And which are false complaints from sore losers?

The Electoral Integrity Project has just released new evidence, which compares the risks of flawed and failed elections, and how far countries around the world meet international standards. The EIP is an independent research project based at the University of Sydney and Harvard University, funded mainly by the Australian Research Council, under the direction of Prof. Pippa Norris.

This annual report evaluates all national parliamentary and presidential contests occurring in 66 countries worldwide holding 73 election from July 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2013 (excluding smaller states with a population below 100,000), from Albania to Zimbabwe. Data is derived from a global survey of 855 election experts. Immediately after each contest, the survey asks domestic and international experts to monitor the quality based on 49 indicators.  These responses are then clustered into eleven stages occurring during the electoral cycle and summed to construct an overall 100-point expert Perception of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index and ranking.

Several major new findings emerge from the EIP research.

  • Headlines often focus on problems occurring on polling day. Yet as figure 1 illustrates, lack of a level playing field in political finance and campaign media was seen by experts as the most serious risk to integrity worldwide. These problems were found in many countries, with campaign finance the weakest part of the electoral cycle.  By contrast, the vote count was seen as least problematic.
  • Overall, not surprisingly, electoral integrity is strengthened by democracy and development. Longer experience over successive contests consolidates democratic institutions, deepens civic cultures, and builds the capacity of electoral management bodies. Nevertheless as Figure 2 shows, electoral integrity was particularly strong in several third wave democracies and emerging economies, including the Republic of Korea, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Lithuania, Argentina, and Mongolia.
  • By contrast, experts were critical about flawed elections in several long-established democracies, such as Italy and Japan. Most strikingly, according to the PEI index, the United States ranked 26th out of 73 elections under comparison worldwide, the lowest score among Western nations. Experts highlighted concern over American practices of district boundaries, voter registration and campaign finance.
  • Worldwide, South East Asia was the weakest region. This includes Malaysia, due to its district boundaries and electoral laws, and Cambodia, with concerns about voter registration, the compilation of results and the independence of electoral authorities. Recent electoral protests and instability in Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia vividly illustrate these challenges. Eurasian elections also raise concern, such as those in Belarus, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Finally, several African states with restricted human rights and political freedoms were at risk of failed elections, including Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti, the Republic of Congo, Angola, and Zimbabwe.

Subsequent annual reports will cover national elections every year, to broaden the comparison worldwide.

Further information from the full and executive reports are available for download at the project Web site, www.electoralintegrityproject.com .

Datasets at expert, election, and country levels can all be downloaded from: http://thedata.harvard.edu/dvn/dv/PEI