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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

The Hidden Challenges of Electoral Integrity

Comparative Politics
Section Number
Section Chair
Margarita Zavadskaya
European University Institute
Section Co-Chair
Holly Ann Garnett
McGill University

Elections are one of the most fundamental acts of political expression around the world. Accordingly, the adherence to the high standards of procedural performance remains a key area of study for both democratic and autocratic regimes. In fact, an emerging research agenda on the challenges of ‘electoral integrity,’ from scholars such as Pippa Norris, Sarah Birch, Jørgen Elklit, Andrew Reynolds, and Judith Kelly has recently captured the attention of political scientists. Topics such as the best practices for preventing fraud in new democracies and the effects of electoral malpractice in electoral authoritarian regimes has been the focus of continued study, but what are the hidden challenges of electoral integrity? This section will present panels focusing on unexpected problems in the study of electoral integrity in both the democratic and autocratic regimes that hold elections.
Since the late-1990s scholars have paid more attention to the electoral authoritarian regimes and have found that despite the introduction of democratic institutions in some of these countries, the quality of democracy and the quality of elections in particular, still fall short of the international standards. Electoral authoritarian regimes are caught in a trap of having competitive elections whilst still preserving incumbent’s grip on power though the widespread use of fraud and intimidation. For instance, the last Cambodian elections were marred with fraud, fake election documents and voter intimidation, while elections in countries such as Afghanistan and Thailand were accompanied with large-scale violence during electoral campaign and polling day.
However, poor procedural performance should not be taken for granted in these regimes. While there are certainly underexplored areas of mispractices and malpractices at different stages of the election cycle, scholars have also noticed that, counterintuitively, some electoral authoritarian regimes may perform reasonably well in term of electoral integrity or at least some of its aspects (ex. Goldmith 2014). In fact, in some countries, major challenges lie in non-electoral political processes of a regime. Why is this the case and how can these issues be addressed? Another conceptual and practical concern is the gap between the legal framework and performance in ‘authoritarian elections’: should we distinguish the quality of electoral rules and their performance? Do ‘good’ rules work as a ‘magic bullet’ for electoral integrity? Are there any cumulative ‘learning effects’ when playing by ‘good’ rules and thereby gradually increasing the odds of democratization or this is an overly optimistic view? Lastly, elections may weigh differently across the variety of authoritarianisms (military, one-party, monarchies or competitive and hegemonic regimes). What are the causes and consequences of electoral integrity or malpractice across various species of electoral authoritarianism? We will therefore encourage papers with specific focus on empirical study of ‘the menu of manipulation’ within various institutional contexts of electoral authoritarianism.
However, the challenges of electoral integrity are certainly not limited to electoral authoritarian regimes. Scholars often consider electoral integrity in established democracies to be assured, but we need only to look at the “robo-calls” of Canada’s 2011 election, the “hanging chads” of the 2000 American election, or even the recent court challenges regarding limiting early voting in some American states for the 2014 mid-term elections to see that electoral integrity remains a challenge for established democracies as well. In Europe, examples include the ambiguous electoral reforms in Hungary spearheaded by Viktor Órban, the notorious “effect of Berlusconismo” on media campaigns in Italy, and the use of bogus bills in Nicolas Sarkozy’ re-election campaign in 2012 in France. Many of these countries have inherited outdated institutions and practices that do not match the needs of contemporary democracies. In fact, the recently released Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index reveals a dramatic unexplained variation in election quality across developed democracies and stages of election cycle (Norris et al. 2014). Against the common wisdom, some of the new democracies outperformed established ones, while some democracies scored unexpectedly poorly.
This leads us to ask: what are the ‘hidden challenges’ of electoral integrity in established democracies? Avenues for exploration of this topic include the institutional correlates (if any) of electoral integrity (ex. Norris 2004). What is the relationship between different types of party systems and electoral rules and the (perceived) quality of elections and electoral process? Are adversarial or ‘winner-take-all’ systems are more prone to compromise electoral integrity for the incumbent’s sake? Are systems with lower rates of alternation in power experience lower electoral integrity and vice versa? Furthermore, how are established democracies coping with the new integrity challenges of the digital age and low political interest and participation? We will therefore encourage papers that explore the issue of electoral integrity in established democracies and the measures that have been suggested to address them.
This section therefore encourages a deeper scrutiny of the mechanisms of electoral integrity in different societies and regimes, while highlighting the remaining gaps in the research on the ‘hidden challenges’ of electoral integrity. It will challenge scholars and practitioners to reconsider common assumptions about the practices that contribute to the quality of elections around the globe.
This section has the support of the Electoral Integrity Project, an international research project led by Professor Pippa Norris of Harvard University and the University of Sydney.

Birch, Sarah. 2011. Electoral Malpractice. Series: Comparative politics. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Elklit, Jørgen and Andrew Reynolds. 2005. “A framework for the systematic study of election quality.” Democratization, 12 (2).
Goldsmith, Benjamin. 2014. “Authoritarian Elections, Electoral Integrity, and Political Violence:
Dangerous Choices from the Menu of Manipulation?” Unpublished manuscript. Paper presented at the Electoral integrity Project research seminars.
Kelly, Judith G. 2012. Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works, and Why It Often Fails. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Norris, Pippa. 2014. Why Electoral Integrity Matters. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Norris, Pippa. 2004. Electoral Engineering: Voting Rules and Political Behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Norris, Pippa, Richard Frank and Ferran Martinez I Coma. 2014. “'Measuring the quality of elections: A new dataset.” PS: Political Science and Politics, 47(4).

Panel List

Code Title Details
P091Electoral Integrity and Authoritarianism View Panel Details
P092Electoral Justice and Legal Challenges View Panel Details
P093Electoral Malpractice in Comparative Perspective View Panel Details
P356Strengthening Electoral Integrity View Panel Details
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