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Global assessment shows increasing election quality in many countries

A voter stands in a polling station at the elections in Sierra Leone in June 2023. Image: Commonwealth Secretariat/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

According to the Electoral Integrity Project the quality of elections has held steady around the world and increased in many countries. 

There have been widespread concerns about democratic backsliding around the world with the US launching a Summit for Democracy, asking countries to make commitments to support democratic reform. 

The latest 2023 edition of the Electoral Integrity Global Report notes, however, that there is no evidence of an overall decline in the quality of elections worldwide since 2012.

The researchers of the independent academic project refer to Kenya, Brazil and the United States as recent prominent examples. In Kenya, despite the president-hopeful Raila Odinga’s contestation of the results, the 2022 election “continued the upward trend in electoral integrity Kenya has seen since 2013”, they note. Further, “despite the protests from Bolsonaro supports, the 2022 presidential election in Brazil saw general stability in terms of electoral integrity across the board”. In the United States, the 2022 midterm elections “showed an improvement from the 2020 presidential election”.

No evidence of overall decline in election quality since 2012

Every year, the Electoral Integrity Global Report publishes data about the standard of elections around the globe, relying on expert opinions. Denmark was identified as having the highest quality of elections on an international scale.

Once again, in the 2023 report that covers the previous year, Western Europe has emerged as the region with highest levels of electoral integrity, as indicated by the scores allocated on a 100-point scale. Among the standout countries in 2022 were Denmark (87) and Sweden (81) from the Nordic region, as well as Austria (83) and Slovenia (80). These nations had some of the top-rated elections of the year.

The elections characterized by the most inadequate levels of integrity included such conducted in Sub-Saharan African nations, with the Republic of Congo (27), Angola (31), and Equatorial Guinea (16) being among those with the lowest rates. These countries faced significant challenges pertaining to electoral laws, the voting process, and/or the performance of electoral authorities. Beyond Africa, Serbia (38) and Turkmenistan (23) were also among the bottom five elections in 2022.

Regional variation continues, with the Nordic countries and Western Europe demonstrating consistently in high electoral integrity, while regions like Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa showcase a range of challenges and opportunities for improvement of electoral processes.  

Electoral campaigns the biggest weakness

The Index indicators of the integrity of campaign environment were the lowest scoring stages of the electoral cycle, with campaign finance and campaign media again at the bottom. Conversely, the election procedures, vote count and results were found to be the highest quality.  

The Electoral integrity Project will be holding an international conference this week which will bring together policy makers, academics and practitioners researching elections from over 50 countries are expected to attend quality.

The project’s co-director, Holly Ann Garnett, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Royal Military College of Canada, noted that “some of the key challenges for electoral integrity remain those related to the campaign environment, with campaign finance and media among the lowest overall. Further work is needed to level the playing field and address concerns about the quality of information voters receive to make their deliberations.”

Toby S. James, the project’s other co-director, a Professor of Politics and Public Policy at the University of East Anglia in the UK added that “we certainly should not be complacent about the quality of elections. The Global Electoral Integrity Report certainly shows, however, a story of democratic resilience as much as backsliding. The efforts of electoral officials, legislators and the international community to protect election quality in many countries should be noted and applauded.”