Electoral integrity, a critical aspect of democratic governance, is increasingly jeopardized by a proliferating range of domestic and foreign threats. To guard against these dangers and make sure elections represent the will of the people, IRI’s electoral integrity programs expand voter literacy, maximize participation, catalyze reform movements, mitigate electoral violence, and build citizens’ confidence in electoral outcomes.
IRI’s approach is rooted in the belief that the full and equal participation of all eligible citizens—especially women, youth, and other marginalized groups—is essential for a country’s democratic success. These actors must be able to fulsomely participate during elections (as voters, candidates, and observers) and between elections as advocates. Applying a citizen-centered lens, IRI designs electoral assistance initiatives based on the unique political dynamics and democratic context of a particular country.
By working with electoral institutions and civil society to design and develop innovative programmatic approaches, IRI strengthens electoral processes and guards them against internal and external challenges. IRI supports civic and voter education initiatives that enable citizens to make informed choices and mitigate subversion. Collaboration with citizen poll watchers allows independent assessments of the conduct of an election against regional and international standards.
IRI is a world-wide leader on electoral observation, having deployed observation missions to over 200 elections in more than 50 countries. By deploying professionalized international election observers, IRI has helped deter electoral malpractice—violence and fraud—and help ensure the process reflects the will of the people. IRI has also used these observation missions to promote commitments to fair participation in elections by political actors.
During and after election day, IRI programs build and sustain political will and consensus for key institutional and legislative reform. IRI supports the creation and sustainability of cross-sectoral, inclusive, multi-stakeholder dialogues and thematic working groups that formulate and propose electoral reforms. Where political will for reform is absent, IRI helps fertilize the democratic aspirations of citizens by supporting citizen coalitions and year-round election reform advocacy.
Electoral Observation and Analysis
In places where authoritarian regimes and malign actors wage ideological battles against democratic norms and institutions, elections have become the frontline in the ongoing struggle for democracy. Democracy and governance practitioners must remain vigilant. As an endorser of the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Code of Conduct for International Election Observers, IRI has published numerous reports on the overall quality of an electoral process and how it stands with internationally recognized standards.
IRI’s election observation methodology provides a framework for understanding long-standing and contemporary threats to election integrity. Using IRI’s evidence-based and proven field guides, staff and partners can rapidly analyze all aspects of an electoral cycle to identify democratic gaps in the campaign environment, constitutional and legal framework, election administration, the information space, campaign finance, and the inclusivity of an election. Recognizing the essential role that citizen poll watchers play, IRI empowers citizen observers with tools and resources to independently assess the conduct of an election and, importantly, to confidently publish and defend pre- and post-election reports and recommendations.
Electoral Reform and Advocacy
Growing external interference from foreign autocrats, internal influence from malign actors, and new vulnerabilities to electoral integrity brought about by the digital transformation of society have tested public confidence in democratic institutions. Building resilient electoral institutions with the capacity to thwart long-standing and evolving threats requires sustained and coordinated effort.
Throughout the electoral cycle, IRI and its partners conduct pre- and post-election assessments and long- and short-term election observation that benchmark and document electoral progress or setbacks—including legislative reforms that transpire between election cycles.
During and after election day, IRI programs focus on operationalizing observer recommendations through advocacy campaigns and building political will and consensus for implementing reform agendas. By establishing cross-sectoral, multi-stakeholder dialogues and formation of thematic working groups, IRI helps ensure that proposed reforms are inclusive and prioritized in legislative plenaries. Where political will for reform is absent, IRI helps to fertilize the democratic aspirations of citizens by supporting citizen-government coalitions and year-round election reform advocacy.
Electoral Violence Mitigation
Elections are high-stakes events. While their success can help cement a path to democratization—electoral mismanagement or political manipulation can upend transfers of power and can lead to violent outcomes. Fomenting violence is a strategy that elites routinely, and deliberately, employ to shape political outcomes. Over the past twenty years academics have undertaken a series of empirical studies to understand the conditions under which electoral violence is likely to occur, but only in the last decade has attention turned to how election violence may be mitigated or prevented.
IRI’s Institutional Electoral Violence (EV) Mitigation Framework provides a roadmap for understanding the drivers of electoral violence and proposes intervention strategies to mitigate the corrosive effect of EV on credible elections. The Framework consists of the Vulnerabilities to Electoral Violence (VEV) assessment, used to understand risks for violence. It also includes a Program Guide for Mitigating EV in Sub-Saharan Africa (and accompanying Evidence Briefer), which IRI uses to pair evidence-based programming with identified risks. The Guide is based on two years of research that interrogated and synthesized evidence on specific interventions employed in Africa to mitigate electoral violence.
Effective voter education starts early and continues throughout the election process. Voter education is especially critical in post-conflict and transitional countries where constituents may have new leaders or even a new system of government and where the election may have an unprecedented impact on a country’s democratic trajectory. Partnering with civil society, electoral management institutions, and non-governmental organizations, IRI enables its partners to conduct rigorous constituent outreach through dissemination of voter education materials designed to inform voters about steps of the voting process and to provide essential information about who is eligible to vote; where and how to register; how to check the voter lists; what type of elections are being held; where, when and how to vote; who the candidates are; and how to file complaints.
Central to IRI’s approach is maximizing the participation of marginalized groups in the political process with focus on the electoral participation of women, LGBTQI+ people, and persons with disabilities. Through innovative approaches that leverage traditional and non-traditional media, IRI and its partners work to make voter education material equally and universally accessible with an eye toward targeting youth and first-time voters to cultivate a culture of participation from the ground up.