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D-Minus Elections: The Politics and Norms of International Election Observation

  • Judith Kelley (a1)

As international election monitors have grown active worldwide, their announcements have gained influence. Sometimes, however, they endorse highly flawed elections. Because their leverage rests largely on their credibility, this is puzzling. Understanding the behavior of election monitors is important because they help the international community to evaluate the legitimacy of governments and because their assessments inform the data used by scholars to study democracy. Furthermore, election monitors are also particularly instructive to study because the variety of both intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations that observe elections makes it possible to compare them across many countries and political contexts. This study uses a new dataset of 591 international election-monitoring missions. It shows that despite their official mandate to focus on election norms, monitors do not only consider the elections' quality; their assessments also reflect the interests of their member states or donors as well as other tangential organizational norms. Thus, even when accounting as best as possible for the nature and level of irregularities in an election, monitors' concerns about democracy promotion, violent instability, and organizational politics and preferences are associated with election endorsement. The study also reveals differences in the behavior of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations and explains why neither can pursue their core objectives single-mindedly.

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International Organization
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