What, if anything, do seemingly disparate problems of electoral integrity have in common – whether flaws and irregularities in electoral registers in long-established democracies such as the United States and the UK, malpractices restricting party competition in states such as Kazakhstan or Belarus, pervasive electoral fraud and corruption in Afghanistan, or outbreaks of deadly violence in Kenya in 2007 or Zimbabwe in 2008? The overarching concept of electoral integrity provides insights into all these seemingly diverse phenomena. When electoral observers assess elections positively, echoing the language of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as mentioned in Chapter 1, they commonly describe the outcome as “reflecting the genuine will of the people,” “credible and transparent,” or more simply and conventionally as “free and fair.” By contrast, when problems arise, elections are often described by a bewildering plethora of adjectives such as fraudulent, stolen, malpractices, manipulated, limited, unclean, undemocratic, or violations of human rights. Soft and foggy rhetoric such as “reflecting the genuine will of the people” or the clichés of “free and fair” can serve diplomatic purposes by avoiding hard and sharp criticism. For this very reason, however, fuzzy concepts fail to provide sufficient conceptual clarity and precision for scholars seeking to operationalize and analyze the phenomenon.
As conceptualized and defined by this volume, the overarching notion of electoral integrity refers to agreed upon international conventions and universal standards about elections reflecting global norms applying to all countries worldwide throughout the electoral cycle, including during the pre-electoral period, the campaign, on polling day, and its aftermath. Conversely, the concept of electoral malpractice is used to refer to violations of these principles. Let us discuss these core concepts and consider the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed approach compared with rival definitions in the literature.
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