The view that multiparty elections in changing authoritarian regimes should be held sooner rather than later has been increasingly under attack. Critics argue that, under conditions of low institutional development, multiparty elections may lead to violence and civil war, rather than to the peaceful allocation of authority that everyone desires. Starting from the premise that elections are strategically timed and endogenous in transitioning authoritarian regimes, that is, more likely to be held when violence is imminent, we show that for Africa, the continent with the lowest levels of political institutionalization, elections do not increase the probability of a civil war initiation. In fact, for the post-Cold War period, the holding of multiparty elections is actually associated with a substantial reduction in the probability of civil war onset. To account for this pattern, we develop an informational theory of elections held under conditions that prevail in the post-Cold War, when foreign powers are reluctant to provide direct support for dictators (or their opponents) and elections are more reflective of the true level of a leader’s strength. We argue that, under these conditions, elections may prevent the eruption of a civil war that is already imminent, through two mechanisms: they may deter a weak opposition from initiating a war they are likely to lose or they may induce a weak dictator to offer ways to share power with the opposition.