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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Managing Elections in a Monitory Democracy: UK Election Management in Comparative Perspective

Policy Analysis
Public Administration
Stuart Wilks-Heeg
University of Liverpool
Stuart Wilks-Heeg
University of Liverpool

This paper offers a comparative analysis of election management in the UK, based on a framework derived from John Keane’s (2009, 2011) notion of ‘monitory democracy’. In so doing, it broadens the conception of election management beyond the study of formal election management bodies, to include a range of monitory institutions categorised by Keane as ‘watchdogs’, ‘barking dogs’ and ‘guide dogs’. Using the UK example, the first half of the paper highlights how core electoral management tasks, from maintaining electoral registers to investigating potential breaches of electoral law, foster extensive interaction between election management bodies and institutions such as media outlets, think-tanks and campaign organisations. It is shown that these relationships, which are characteristic of monitory democracy generally, are often crucial to ensuring the efficacy of electoral management. Yet, the UK cases also illustrates how the interplay between ‘watchdogs’ (e.g. the Electoral Commission) and ‘barking dogs’ (e.g. the media, think-tanks) in election management can give rise to tensions that risk undermining public confidence in elections or act as a potential vehicle for partisan influence in reshaping electoral arrangements. In the second half of the paper, this framework is used to place the UK experience in comparative perspective. Specifically, English-language media coverage of electoral irregularities, drawn from international press databases and daily Google News alerts captured from 2014-17, is utilised to map how the UK experience compares to other Anglo-American democracies. This analysis highlights considerable national contrasts in how, and to what extent, the media reports on electoral management processes and in the degree to which media coverage confirms or contradicts official, legal and academic analysis of electoral irregularities. It is proposed that the unique character of monitory democracy in each country is likely to provide the primary explanation for these differences, with important implications for both public and expert perceptions of electoral integrity.
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