People line up during Super Tuesday primary voting at a polling place located at Fire Station #10 in Arlington on March 1. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

What do Argentina, Costa Rica and Brazil have in common?

They all outranked the United States in a comparison of election standards and procedures conducted by the Electoral Integrity Project. The United States ranked 47th worldwide, out of 139 countries.

The survey is a measure of dozens of factors, including voter registration, campaign financing rules, election laws, the voting process and vote count.

Overall, one in six elections around the world were considered electoral failures. But in general, countries in the Americas and  central and eastern Europe, as well as in Asia, were considered to be on the winning side in terms of electoral integrity, with Scandinavian and Western European nations topping the lists.

The report was particularly critical of nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Even amid those already low standards, Ethiopia stood out, according to the report. Last May, the country's ruling party won all seats in parliament "following harassment of opposition parties, censorship of the media and repression of human rights."

Syria, Afghanistan and Bahrain were described as having performed only slightly better in elections between 2012 and 2015. Syrian elections during that time were considered the fifth worst -- only Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti, the Republic of Congo and Burundi ranked lower.


A map showing electoral integrity worldwide. Shades of green represent high integrity, whereas red or yellow symbolizes lower integrity.

Founded with the goal of improving government accountability, the Electoral Integrity Project provides "new evidence to compare how national contests around the world are meeting international standards of electoral integrity," the American Political Science & Politics Journal recently said. The project is based at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and at the University of Sydney's Department of Government and International Relations but operates independently as a nonprofit scholarly research project.

Worldwide, vague campaign financing rules and the quality of media coverage were identified as the most frequent problems. In the United States, "experts expressed concern about the quality of the electoral laws, voter registration, the process of drawing district boundaries, as well as the regulation of campaign finance," the report states.

"In the United States, the 2012 Presidential election and the 2014 Congressional elections were ranked worst of any long-established democracy, especially on campaign finance and electoral registration," the report's authors concluded.

"It remains to be seen how experts assess the 2016 US presidential contest,"the expert commission assesses. "But the overall country ranking seems unlikely to improve given persistent problems of campaign funding, heated partisan polarization over registration and balloting procedures, claims of fraud in the Iowa GOP primaries, and an early primary campaign season characterized by the politics of personal attacks, dissatisfied voters, and populist appeals."

The authors also singled out Britain for a surprisingly low 39th spot in the ranking. They criticize Britain's majoritarian electoral system as preventing the representation of smaller parties and minorities.

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