In the current issue of PS: Political Science and Politics (47:4, October 2014), Pippa Norris, Richard W. Frank, and Ferran Martinez i Coma announce a new dataset for “Measuring Electoral Integrity around the World.” In the spirit of Freedom House, Transparency International, and other global indices, the Electoral Integrity Project surveys experts on 49 indicators for a particular election, and generates a PEI index on a 100-point scale.
The authors anticipated relationships between electoral integrity and liberal democracy, democratic history, and economic development. They found these, with some interesting exceptions. They also find that media and campaign finance, not just ballot box integrity, are important. To be sure, this effort will become an important contribution to the study of elections, political development, democratization, and more. But it risks suffering from a serious flaw – one that might have a simple, partial solution.
The method of data collection – ask experts – is fair enough. It is used for all sorts of efforts, from measuring press freedom in the world to assessing college football programs. But there is an important problem. The number of survey responses from experts for a particular election ranges from 2 to 36 – more for post-industrial societies with an active political science community. We might get many thoughtful results on German or American elections, then. But measuring electoral integrity in less widely-understood political societies – Albania or Moldova or Bosnia, for example – is also important. What else does Albania need to do to prepare for its EU application? Are there changing levels of support for Russia’s role in Moldova? How are the Dayton Accords provisions helping – or hindering – progress in Bosnia? Other examples abound. If only a handful of surveys are being included in these analyses, then the understanding of the elections and the application of these findings to broader studies suffer.
There is at least one fairly easy remedy. In the article, Norris, Frank, and Martinez i Coma seem to brush off the work of on-the-ground observation missions as not universal, difficult to compare, and “muddied” by reports that can offer divergent conclusions. Leaving, aside the notion that experts might also submit surveys that contradict each other, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the Carter Center, IFES, and others do important work.
These groups and others send various numbers of people to observe the campaign, voting, and counting processes. Many of these observers are elections experts in their own country, or have served on multiple international observer missions. For the Bosnian general elections this month (October 2014). OSCE had 20 long-term observers (two months or more) and 180 short-term observers (of which I was one, serving one week, for polling stations preparations, election day, and counting processes). OSCE also had professional staff members monitoring parties and media nationwide throughout the campaign. On election day, the short-term observers sent thousands of reports, each with dozens of indicators, and some with extensive prose. These were sent digitally in real time to an office of statistical analysis, for mid-day, late-day, and next-day reports and analysis.
The Electoral Integrity Project could multiply its value by adding a database – a list of resources, really – to its raw data. Providing links to the reports generated by OSCE and others would encourage and facilitate a richer understanding of elections of a particular election, and furthering understanding of countless comparative and case studies. It would take some staff work to build such a resource initially, but keeping it updated should be manageable – the IFES election calendar lists on average about two countries per month for the next year.
The study of elections is key to the study of a country, of democracy and democratization more broadly, and to economics, gender politcs, ethnic group violence, and more. Norris, Frank, and Martinex i Coma perform an important academic service – and an important public service – with the PEI. Adding links to qualitative data can only make their quantitative data that much more useful.