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Fair and Free

A core pillar of democracy is the ensurement of fair and free elections. As Western

nations pushed democratic practices on developing and newly sovereign countries, independent

auditors began measuring the fairness and freeness of national elections; thus, the practice of

electoral monitoring became a normal procedure for nations looking to demonstrate their

commitment to democracy. Having domestic elections monitored is an important part of proving

a country’s commitment to democracy. As electoral monitoring became a respected norm,

international governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations were created and

began programs for the purpose of electoral monitoring.

Freedom House and Polity IV are both studies that examine how “free” and “democratic”

a country is based on different variables. Freedom House measures an individual voter’s freedom

with respect to their political and civil rights. Political rights include the ability for people to

“participate freely in the political process, including the right to vote freely for distinct

alternatives in legitimate elections, compete for public office, join political parties and

organizations, and elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies”

(Methodology). Polity IV measures democracy on a scale from -10 to 10, with a score of 10

indicating that a country is a “full democracy”. Polity IV makes its determination of democratic

status on the competitiveness of political participation, the competitiveness of executive

recruitment, the openness of executive recruitment, and the constraints on the chief executive

(Polity IV Project). In both of these widely used and respected studies of democracy, fair and

free elections are examined as a core part of determining a country’s level of freedom and

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Similarly, the United Nations takes a stance to outline that voting rights are human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly,

mentions the right to fair and free elections. Article 21 states that “the will of the people shall be

the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine

elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by

equivalent free voting procedures” (“Universal Declaration of Human Rights”). The United

Nations also translated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into the International

Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which became a legally binding and internally

enforceable treaty (Frieden, Lake, Schultz 458). In the ICCPR, Article 25 clearly states that

“every citizen shall have the right and opportunity…to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic

elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot,

guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors” ("International Covenant on Civil

and Political Rights"). As of 2012, 167 of the United Nations’ 193 member countries agreed to

the rules laid out by the ICCPR.

As seen through these treaties, declarations, and measurements, it is clear that voting

rights and fair elections are important to individuals, states, and the international community.

The significance placed on fair elections is dependent on the belief that democratic

representation is an essential facet of a free nation. Since the end of World War II, Western

countries have pushed democratic practices on developing nations. The United States

implemented pro-democracy policies with respect to its involvement in Latin America in the

1980s and the Middle East in the 2000s (Promoting Democracy). Similarly, the United Nations

works to promote democracy through its Democracy Fund, Department of Peacekeeping

Operations, and Department of Political Affairs, among other programs (Democracy). It is clear
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that promoting democracy is important to many Western nations. One way to show a

commitment to democratization is for countries to have fair and free elections. States need ways

to monitor and prove how “free” and “fair” elections really are, though.

Electoral monitors exist to monitor elections as a means to detect and deter electoral

fraud. As laid out by the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation,

election monitoring can increase the integrity of election processes, by “deterring and exposing

irregularities and fraud and by providing recommendations for improving electoral processes”.

With electoral observers present, the public can be more confident in the electoral process and

the results of the election.

The process of electoral monitoring is time-consuming and expensive. Electoral monitors

observe all parts of the electoral process. Before the election, observers analyze election laws,

evaluate voter education and registration, assess campaign fairness, oversee the training of

election staff, and monitor media coverage (Democracy Program). During the election,

observers visit polling stations to oversee the “opening, voting, counting, and aggregation of

results” (Election Observation Missions). After the election, monitors handle electoral dispute

resolution and supervise the release of the final results (Democracy Program).

According to Susan Hyde, author of The Pseudo-Democrat’s Dilemma and Political

Science professor at UC Berkeley, electoral monitoring came to be because democracies wanted

to indicate their commitment to free and fair elections. With electoral monitors present, these

democracies could send a signal to the world that they were “true democracies”. This was

especially the case with newer democracies, who had something to prove to the international

community. Established democracies began to notice and reward countries that could

demonstrate their commitment to democracy and free elections. One benefit these “true”
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democracies could count on was increased foreign aid. Once “true” democracies began receiving

benefits for inviting electoral monitors in and proving their elections to be honest, “pseudo-

democracies” began inviting electoral monitors in, as well. Susan Hyde coined the term “pseudo-

democracies” to mean “governments willing to engage in election manipulation” (Hyde 7).

These pseudo-democracies would invite electoral monitors into their country to signal their

commitment to “democracy” while hoping that their cheating would go undetected. (Frieden,

Lake, Schultz 65). Therefore, as the international norm of electoral monitoring spread and

pseudo-democracies began to mimic the actions of true democracies, higher rates of electoral

fraud were discovered. Nowadays, countries that do not invite electoral observers to monitor

their elections are automatically assumed to have unfree elections.

The international norm of electoral monitoring is most often applied to transitioning or

new democracies. Even though there is very little to worry about, established democracies often

elect not to invite electoral monitoring services into their election, possibly because they are

simply under less scrutiny. Recently though, stable democracies have begun to invite electoral

monitors to observe their elections to show their support of the international norm of electoral

observation (Hyde 86). For every country to show their commitment to democracy would be a

sign in the international community that fair and free elections are essential

Electoral monitoring is important to pro-democracy advocates, actors who wish to prove

their commitment to democracy, and to pseudo-democracies. Pro-democracy advocates value

electoral monitoring because they can use it to evaluate how democratic nations are. Actors

wishing to prove their commitment to democracy care about electoral monitoring because they

wish to be seen as a stable democracy and receive international benefits such as increased

foreign aid. Pseudo-democracies care about electoral monitoring because of the norm that has
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been created. When these pseudo-democracies do not invite electoral monitors in, their elections

are automatically under question. Therefore, they have an incentive to invite these electoral

monitors in, and if they wish to have an unfair election, they have an incentive to cheat and hope

that the electoral monitors do not catch it (Hyde 49). An example of the importance of electoral

monitoring can be found through an analysis of the 2005 elections in Ethiopia. Electoral

monitors reported fraud in these elections, and as a result, many countries froze or discontinued

their financial support to the country. By 2006, donors had frozen more than $375 million in

foreign aid support for the country. (Hyde 90).

From 1962 onward, many elections have been monitored by international observers.

Organizations like The Carter Center, the European Union, the United Nations, and the

Organization of American States all send out individuals to monitor elections. The Carter Center,

for example, has monitored 103 elections in 39 different countries over the last 28 years (Waging

Peace Through Elections). Once electoral monitoring became more popular and recognized,

organizations got together to form standards regarding democratic elections. The United Nations

Electoral Assistance and the National Democratic Institute, along with the Carter Center, created

the Declaration of Principles for International Observation. This document laid out guidelines for

how electoral monitoring would function and operate. Additionally, the Carter Center

consolidated international law regarding human rights and elections into a database entitled

Election Obligations and Standard (Democracy Program).This document and database clearly

lays out the expectations regarding electoral monitoring. It is apparent that electoral monitoring

has become a standard, as nearly 80% of all elections are observed by a variety of organizations

including private organizations, national governments, and international organizations. (Frieden,

Lake, Schultz 65).

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Electoral monitoring can be viewed as a public good. As a public good, electoral

monitoring must be both non-excludable and non-rivalrous. Observers monitor the elections of

many countries, whether those specific countries contributed to the organization or not; thus,

electoral monitoring can be seen as a non-excludable entity. The European Union, for example,

provides electoral monitoring to dozens of countries. In 2010, the European Union observed an

election in Tanzania. Tanzania does not contribute financially to the European Union, but was

still provided electoral monitoring support (Election Observation Mission to Tanzania). Electoral

monitoring can also be seen as non-rivalrous. The European Union providing electoral

monitoring support to one country does not diminish its ability to provide monitoring support to

another country. Arguably, these organizations do have limited resources and staff and cannot

provide unlimited electoral monitoring. However, the equipment and staff used to monitor one

election is not “consumed” during an electoral monitoring mission. Therefore, the good of

electoral monitoring is non-rivalrous.

Since electoral monitoring is a public good, organizations that provide this public good

are faced with the dilemma known as the collective action problem. The collective action

problem occurs when any group of individuals tries to work together to further the interests of

the group. The problem that arises is that individuals have an incentive to free ride on the work

of others (Olson). Even though democracies benefit from the information provided from

electoral monitors’ reports, not every democracy contributes equally to the creation and support

of electoral monitoring.

Since the public good of electoral monitoring- and electoral monitors’ reports- will be

available to every country, regardless of their contribution, these countries have an incentive to

free ride. When elections are monitored, the results are generally spread through the media, and
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therefore, anyone has access to the information. Overcoming the free-rider problem can prove to

be difficult, but group size, privileged actors, and motivation can all affect a group’s ability to

overcome the collective action problem.

Research suggests that the smaller the group size, the more likely it is that the group will

be able to cooperate successfully. With smaller groups, it is easier for members to monitor the

behavior and contributions of other members, making free-riding more difficult. In each

scenario, there is a certain number of individuals required for the public good to be provided. If

the size of the group is much larger than the number of individuals needed, then free-riding is

likely to occur. This is because members of the group can be reasonably certain that if they do

not participate, others will, and the goal will still be achieved. Overcoming collective action is

more likely when exactly the number of participants needed believe that they, and only they, are

likely to participate. If members believe that there support is necessary for a goal to be achieved,

they are more likely to participate instead of free-ride (Clark, Golder, Golder 274).

As applied to electoral monitoring, the group size of those countries who wish to have

electoral monitoring is very large. The group, in this scenario, would be all democracies. With

such a large group, free-riding is likely to occur and coordination problems are likely to arise.

Providing the good of electoral monitoring is more likely if exactly the amount of democracies

needed believe that, without their support, the public good of electoral monitoring would not be


Collective action theory also applies to those groups interested in dismantling electoral

monitoring procedures. Since small group sizes aid in overcoming the collective action problem,

if one small group who opposed electoral monitoring were to arise and try to prevent funding and

support of electoral monitoring, they would be more likely to succeed in their initiatives than the
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pro-electoral monitoring democracies. Pseudo-democracies would likely be the group opposed to

electoral monitoring, because they can lose funding and support if their elections are deemed

unfair by electoral monitors. However, because electoral monitoring is a norm, these pseudo-

democracies have an incentive to invite electoral monitors in, and hope that they do not discover

any fraud. If these pseudo-democracies teamed up to undermine electoral monitoring, though,

they would have more luck overcoming the collective action problem due to their small group


Another way that electoral monitors overcome the collective action problem is by relying

on privileged actors. A privileged actor is a “single member or small coalition of members [that]

provides the public good despite free riding by others” (Frieden, Lake, Schultz 56). This is a

person or group who has the skills and means to provide the public good themselves, and

therefore can overcome the collective action problem.

The United States is a privileged actor. In 2016, the United States funded 28.57% of the

United Nation’s peacekeeping budget, which equates to approximately $2.2 billion ("Financing

peacekeeping. United Nations Peacekeeping"). The United Nation’s peacekeeping budget goes

to fund election monitoring and the organization and supervision of elections, among other

things ("Electoral Assistance. United Nations Peacekeeping"). The European Union, an

organization that provides electoral monitoring, also has privileged actors. In 2007, Germany,

France, Italy, the UK, and Germany contributed more than half of the entire budget. Germany

paid more to the European Union than the 19 lowest-paying member states combined. ("Europe |

Paying for the EU budget" 2009) The Carter Center is also funded heavily by the United States’

federal government, receiving $4,512,313 in funding from the US. Effectively, the United States
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contributes enough money to fund 10% of The Carter Center ("Carter Center Annual Financial


It is clear from the budgets of these three organizations that provide electoral monitoring

that privileged actors do play a role in funding electoral monitoring and overcoming collective

action problems. If Germany pulled out of the European Union and the United States pulled out

of the United Nations and stopped funding the Carter Center, it is possible that electoral

monitoring organizations would have to scramble to find funds elsewhere, or cut back on their

funding to electoral monitoring missions.

In some instances, collective action problems are overcome because the actors are so

invested in the cause that they “see contributing to the cause as beneficial in its own right”

(Frieden, Lake, Schultz 225). It could be the case that electoral monitors and supporters of

electoral monitors are so invested in their belief of democracy and fair elections that they view

contributing to electoral observation missions as beneficial, regardless of the cost or benefits of

contributing. Free-riding does not occur in this scenario because the actors view contributing

itself as beneficial.

For the last half a century, electoral monitoring has become an accepted international

norm. As this norm became accepted, international, non-governmental, and governmental

organizations began creating programs to provide the public good of electoral monitoring. Since

electoral monitoring is a public good, the problem of collective action arises. This public good

has been provided, possibly because of privileged actors and the actors’ strong beliefs in

democracy. Despite the large group size, these democracies were able to provide this public good

to the international community.

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My research in this paper relies on the idea that democracies are invested and believe that

fair and free elections are important. Additionally, it relies on the idea that democracies value

knowing how democratic and free a country and its elections are. If democracies do not care

about these ideals, then there would not be a desire for the public good. If I had access to

information regarding a country’s “belief in democracy” as correlated to their contributions to

electoral monitoring missions, I could have more effectively shown a connection between a

country’s “strong-held beliefs” and their willingness to contribute to a public good.

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