Framework for Domestic Election Observation

This framework is offered with a view to ensuring that the way domestic election observers go about their work is consistent with internationally acceptable standards of election observation. The Electoral Commission of Ghana (EC) believes that this is important for a number of reasons.

  1. What domestic observers do, should not be different in character from what international observers do
  2. It costs so much money to cater for one international observer that, almost invariably, there are not enough international observers to adequately cover the polling stations
  3. International election observation tends to wane as a country gains experience in organizing democratic elections; and yet our elections will require continued observation for some quite to come

For the reasons, the EC believes that domestic election observation needs to be put on a very firm footing. Not only has domestic observation of Ghana’s elections been going on for some time now, but it is becoming so popular that it could supplant international observation altogether in the foreseeable future. In any case, if done well, domestic and international election observation ably complements each other.

Furthermore, in general, well-executed election observation has been found to be use full in strengthening the democratisation process in several ways. It helped to:

  • Calm nerves and boost confidence in the electoral process, particularly among opposition politicians distrustful of the EMB or the government, or both.
  • Allay the fears and suspicious of voters and thereby engender a high voter turnout
  • Foster openness, fair play, and respect for human rights
  • Make election officials do their work properly
  • Deter violence, fraud and rigging
  • Enhance the transparency and credibility of elections, and there by the acceptance of results
  • Legitimize the electoral process and thereby legitimize the elected government and contribute to its international respectability.

Also, competent observer reports have helped to disseminate and reinforce good electoral practices and have proven to be a source of improvement in further elections.

 

What is Election Observation

In simplified terms, election observation involves the two main activities:

  • * To gather facts about the election
  • * To interpret the facts so gathered from the purposes of determining whether or not, on the whole, the election went well.

Two factors are worth noting in connection with these two activities.

First, an election is a process consisting of several activities. As such, the best form of election observation would be one that covers the key activities undertaken in connection with the election from the start to the finish. The reason is straightforward. All sorts of malpractices that could affect the eventual outcomes of an election might occur well before the day of the election: at the preparatory stages like the demarcation of electoral boundaries, the registration of voters, the nomination of credentials, and campaigning. In principle, this underscores the importance of domestic observers, who could conveniently do long term domestic observation much more cheaply than foreign observers. Long term domestic observation is particularly suited to tracking election–related violence, human right violations, and media coverage of elections. However, perhaps for lack of funding, much domestic elections observation is limited to the actual conduct of election. Consequently, this framework relates the observation of the conduct of elections.

Secondly, at core, election observation is about whether an election is carried out in accordance with the laws, rules, regulations, procedures, and processes that are prescribed for the management and conduct of elections in a particular country. Of course, such observation would take account of the extent to which the election managers, officials and other actors conduct themselves properly by the acting in accordance with the principle and norms associated with democratic elections.

 

Election Observation and Election Monitoring

Election observation and election monitoring are often used as inter-changeable terms; But that is not correct. Election observations are not the same activity as election monitoring. The difference is simple but crucial: An election observer has no role in the actual administration of an election; an election monitor has.

Indeed, an election monitor is deemed to be an integral part of the election administration process; consequently s/he has the power to supervise and intervene in the actual administration of an electoral activity. So, unlike the observer, the monitor can, where and when ever necessary, gives binding corrective instructions to an election official in the course of executing his/her duties. For this reason, to be able to do work properly, the monitor requires greater technical knowledge of election administration than the ordinary
Observer. Unlike an observer, the monitor must know not only how an electoral activity is carried out, but also why it is done that way. Where necessary, this understanding enables the election monitor to prescribe an alternative way of carrying out a particular electoral activity, without compromising its underlying principle.

An observer who oversteps his/her bounds and behaves like a monitor is most likely to come into conflict with election managers or officials on the ground

 

What to Observe

The first obligation of an election observer is to know exactly what to observe, what to look out for. At minimum, this requires adequate familiarity with the rules, procedure and processes of the electoral system to be observed. So, it is important for the prospective elections observer to study the manuals of instructions written for the election officials. It is also important for observers to participate in any briefing by the Commissions and the use the opportunity to seek clarifications on any grey areas.

Beyond that, depending on it scope, elections observations in practical terms consists in trying to find answers to a myriad of questions relating to various aspects of the organizations, management and conduct of the election:

  • * The legal and institutional framework
  • * The condition of the general electoral environment
  • * The integrity of the electoral preparations, including voter   registration and voter education.
  • * The degree of political competitiveness
  • * The inclusive of the electoral system and the extent of citizen participation
  • * The extent of human right violations and election-related violence
  • * The extent to which rights violations and election access to parties and candidates
  • * The conducts of the main players: do they act in a mature and responsible manner?
  • * The posture of security personnel in providing general and election security
  • * The integrity of the conduct of the poll, including voting, the count, collation, and declaration of result.
  • * The resolution of electoral disputes

 

Observer Requirement

Like any other actor in the electoral process, election observes, too, must be conduct themselves properly. The factors that should guide election observers in their work are often stated in the form of a code of conduct or ethical principle consisting of dos and don’ts. The EC is in no doubt that the agency sponsoring the observations will instruct it observes about proper behavior. However, since Ghana is a member of the Economic Community of West Africa States  (ECOWAS). The EC recommends to our domestic observers, which is summarized below. The code addresses the individual observer directly and it consistent with internationally accepted principle of election observation.

  • * Play your role with strict impartiality, independence and objectivity; and refrain from any expression of bias or preference in relations to parties, candidates, or any issue under contention in the relation to parties, candidates, or any issues under contention in the election.
  • * Undertake your duties in an unassuming manner, without disrupting or interfering with the election processes and procedures.
  • * You may bring any irregularities that you notice to the attention of election officials, but do not command them or countermand their instruction.
  • * You must base all conclusions you make on well documented, factual, and verified evidence.
  • * Do not prejudge the outcome of the election, or in any way allow your personnel opinions, likes, and dislikes to influence your judgment.
  • * Do not accept any gifts or favors that might influence your work.
  • * At all times during the period of observation, including during private time away from work, you should behave blamelessly, exercise sound judgments, and display the highest level of personal discretion.
  • * You must comply with any instructions given by polling officials. If for some reason, you are dissatisfied with any official’s instructions, record the circumstances.
  • * Do not attempt to take part in the actual administration of the election:  under no circumstances should handle official election document in the polling station without the permission from the presiding from the presiding officer.
  • * Do not physical assists in the voting or counting process.
  • * Avoid doing anything whatsoever that may be constructed to disruption or interference with the work of the election officials or with the voting, counting and collation processes.
  • * Do not attempt to play an active role in resolving any disputes or complaints, to avoid the possibility of compromising the observer group’s eventual position on the matter.
  • * Do not use a photographic, video, or recoding equipment at he polling station without the permission of the presiding officer or any persons concern.
  • * Do not wear or display anything whatsoever –including symbols, colors, or banners- that could be constructed as identification with any particular candidate or party.
  • * Record concrete details of any details of any complaints made to you, including the name, the organization (where relevant), and address of the complaints.
  • * Avoid any form of confrontation with security personnel
  • * Try not to give the impression that you are rushing from one polling station to another. However, quickly get away from any manifestation of danger to your person.
  •  

In terms of how observes are required to act, two additional factors are noteworthy:

  • * An observer does not enjoy any special immunity from committing an electoral offence or any offence under the general laws of Ghana.
  • * It is prudent for individual members of the observer group to avoid personal or premature comments or statements. Such statements may contradict or prejudice the eventual official statements and dent the credibility of the group. Besides, reckless statements by individual observers can easily increase tensions and lead to actual during or after an election. For this reason, it is important to identify the person/s authorized to speak on behalf of the observer group.

 

Deploying the Observers

The deployment of observers is entirely the responsibility of the sponsoring agency, and the Commission will play no role in this regard. The only advice we wish to give is that the observers are not recruited from the local area, it good practice to deploy them in good time.

When deployed in good time, it is possible for the observer to do certain things before Election Day, such as:

  • * Ascertain from election officials whether all materials and full complement of staff are available.
  • Find out from security officials if the general atmosphere is peaceful or where problems are anticipated.
  • * Carefully select and locate the polling stations to visit, to prevent having to wander about looking fro them on Election Day.

I order to avoid duplication of effort and to be able to cover as many polling stations as possible; it is useful for different observer groups to coordinate the deployment of their members. Clearly, it is of little use of capable observes from different groups to congregate at the polling station.

 

Gathering the Facts

A key aspect of election observation consists in gathering facts about the election. In this regard, it is simply unacceptable to send scores of people into the field to observe an election without proper guidance. For this reason, the commission requires the observer group to present to it a copy of its checklist of things to look out for, which is the basic tool for purposeful Election Day observation.

A good election observation checklist has three major attributes:

  • * It  is tailored to the specific election to be observed, as electoral practices may differ from place to place
  • * It elicits mainly factual responses from the observer, and not his/her feelings and opinions.
  • * It is designed in such a way that the responses are easily processed and analyzed.

 

In turn, a good election observation checklist offers two main advantages:

  • * In turn possible uniform observation by all the members of the group, so that there is a firm basis for common judgment.
  • * It makes the basis of report writing factual and not subjective.

It is to be noted, however, that an observation checklist is an organizing tool. So the observer must record any happening that s/he considers to be capable of having an effect on the election, even though provision is not made for it in the checklist.

 

Interpreting the facts

Usually, as soon as practicable after the observation has been completed, the observe group issues an interim or a preliminary statement. An interim statement represents a summary of findings of the group and gives a general appraisal.

An interim statement should not be the end of the road. Having issued it, the group then settles down to write it’s final and detailed reports. Where the observer group is large some of the persons who took part in the observation may not be involved in the writing of the report. In fact, in some cases, the report may be entrusted to an entirely separate group that has expertise in election observation report writing.

But whatever the case may be, certain percepts have found to be useful in writing the report. They include:

  • * Utmost care must be taken in the use of election language, such as free and fair, fraud, rigging, and irregularity.
  • * Performance lapse and genuine mistakes should be separated from deliberate wrongdoing and treated differently
  • * The report must be deliberately a sense of proportion through careful assessments of the distribution and effect of any occurrences. In particular, irregularities must be carefully examined to determine their probable overall effect on the electoral outcome
  • * Care should be taken not to include in the report as facts allegations of wrong doing in the reports as facts allegations of wrongdoing  that could not be confirmed
  • * The report must be structured in a logical manner. For oragnisations that do observation often, it is advisable to adopt a standard format fro report writing. This makes it possible to create a cumulative and comparative record of progress and setbacks in electoral democracy over the years.

It is important to remember that, ultimately, the verdict that the observer is required to make is whether or not Ghana followed its own laws, rules regulations and procedures in doing the election. Of course, this should not prevent the observer group from making recommendations on institutional and procedural matters that could improve the holding of future elections. But such recommendations should be viewed as supplementary and separated from actual findings relating to the oragnisations and conduct of the particular election.

 

Accreditation

It is important for all observers to receive accreditation from the Electoral Commission (EC). Accreditation confers official recognition and gives the observer access to the polling station. The accreditation requirements, which are listed below, are the same for both domestic and international observers.

  • * An application for accreditation should be addressed to the chairman of the EC and presented in reasonable time at the Commission’s head office in Accra.
  • * The sponsoring organization must not be affiliated to any political party in Ghana.
  • * The organization must submit a copy of its observation checklist to the EC
  • * The prospective observer should not be a political party activist.
  • * The name of each prospective observer, along with his/her passport size photograph, must be given to the commission, so that an accreditation card can be prepared. Under no circumstances will faceless individuals be accredited.
  • * Training is primarily the responsibility of the sponsoring agency.
  • * Evidence must be given to the EC that the persons being proposed have received training in election observation, such that they are reasonably  familiar with the process to be observed and how they are required to act
  • * The EC may provide samples of relevant training materials and as far as time allows, will be willing to assist with training.

Once accredited, the observer is free:

  • * To request and obtain information from the EC and it officials on maters related to t election
  • * To gain access to and observe proceedings at any polling station or vote collation center of his/her   choice, subject only to restriction of numbers fro purposes of avoiding overcrowding
  • * Within reasonable limits, to inspect and verify election materials, without interfering with them

For the purposes of access to polling stations or offices of the EC, the observer must prominently display the accreditation card or produce it on demand by election officials.

 

Conclusion


Election observation is an obvious venture and a serious undertaking that requires a huge logistics outlay, well trained observers and adequate organisational capacity. However, if done well, its benefits could be immense.

It is important for observers to be mindful that their primary function is to observe and not to supervise the election process. Observers, domestic or international, do not have the authority to intervene in the administration of an election. Eventually, what they are supposed to do is to consider all the factors that impinge on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole. Even so, the observer does not set out on a journey to find fault. Accordingly, election observation calls for a display of integrity and non-partisanship at all times, no doubt an onerous responsibility. But if observers do their work properly, they wield considerable moral authority towards electoral reform or election wrongdoing.

When all is said and done, the primary beneficiary of election observation is not the sponsoring agency or the government or the EMB or the political parties and candidates.

It is the people of the country. The people have the right to credible elections, and observers have a duty to upload that right. Failure to do is tantamount to betrayal of the people’s trust. So perhaps, the bottom line in election observation is whether the observer himself/herself is worthy of public trust