David Carroll, director of The Carter Center’s democracy program, spoke to a group of Emory students and professors about democracy in elections around the world yesterday.
Carroll has been the director of the democracy program since 2003 and now heads The Carter Center’s project on manifesting standards in international elections processes. Carroll’s lunch speech was a part of Dialogues on Development in Africa, a lecture series.
The main point of the lecture, Carroll said, was to introduce his three- to five-year-long initiative aimed toward finding standards in studying the election process.
“Free and fair: what does that mean?” Carroll said, introducing the focal question of his project. “We want to build a common consensus.”
The lack of common standards is the driving force behind his project. Carroll cited incidents from the past such as the 2002 election in Zimbabwe, where the two observer groups faced severe dissent between what was democratic and what was not, as one reason why it was imperative to create universally accepted standards.
“The objectives of this project are to articulate common international standards based on obligations and find a consensus of standards between observer groups,” Carroll said.
Though set standards do not exist, Carroll says there are guidelines in the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation
, a document co-drafted by the Carter Center, the National Democratic Institute and the United Nations. These guidelines, which include a code of conduct for observers and finding a credible size, scope and duration of missions, serve to maintain a broad level of international cooperation.
This wide range of guidelines, however, is not enough for observers to hone in on the details of their examination.
“In the past, elections have been judged by an ‘all or nothing’ mentality,” Carroll said, partially blaming the media for this.
The solution, Carroll said, is to use a different vocabulary, bringing in terms like “acceptable” and “shows progress in a country.”
“We think this is a better approach because states have already committed themselves,” Carroll said.
In beginning their studies, there are many aspects of the election that Carroll and his team must consider. They follow what they have outlined as the 10 parts of the electoral process, which include election management, legislative framework, voter education and candidates. By identifying these aspects of the process in an election, Carroll and his group can make connections between these actions and the obligations that each state carries in an election process.
“We’re trying to find obligations that states have in relevance to elections,” Carroll said, pointing to the numerous charts on which he diagrams his findings. “We try to understand: how do they come together?”
Another goal Carroll and his fellow election observers are striving for is the right for anybody anywhere to vote in their respective regions.
“‘Universal’ is a collective right to vote,” Carroll explained. “We want universal suffrage. Everyone should have the right to vote.”
Carroll said he understands that restrictions may be set based on factors such as minimum age, residency, mental incapacity and criminal conviction. With these limits, Carroll said states will facilitate voting by providing early voting, postal voting and voting from abroad.
“We are in the process of creating a checklist,” Carroll said in reference to his going in to observe an election. “We ask questions; did all participants agree on decisions regarding ballot exclusion?”
In addition to the focal point of the initiative, Carroll said there are several upcoming steps that will help their initiative, as well as others, along. Carroll hopes to develop an open-source e-database, hold regional stakeholder meters and provide additional training materials and handbooks for observers.
— Contact Alice Chen