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Kennedy School Lecturer Discusses Election Failure

By Mia C. Karr, Crimson Staff Writer

Kennedy School of Government lecturer Pippa Norris discussed various factors than can lead to failed elections in front of a small crowd gathered at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation on Tuesday afternoon.

Her talk was based off findings in her recently published book, Why Elections Fail. This is the second volume in a trilogy about the Electoral Integrity Project, a research project directed by Norris that aims to research and evaluate international elections, discover the causes and effects of election failure, and provide solutions for these failures.

Norris and her team have collected data on over 100 countries with a population of more than 100,000 that have held a national election between 2012 and now, and will continue to collect data in the coming year. The researchers have asked 40 experts in each country to fill out a survey with a range of questions about how the election was carried out, the results of which Norris has used to create a Perceptions of Electoral Integrity index. She defines electoral integrity as “international commitments and global norms, endorsed in a series of authoritative conventions, treaties, protocols, and guidelines.”

In this index, the United States ranks the worst of all established democracies, and below several other countries with shorter histories of electoral processes, including Rwanda and Tunisia, illustrating Norris’s point that election failure is not limited to the developing world.

“When we talk about problems of electoral integrity, in our project, we see them as universal,” Norris said.

According to Norris, one reason the U.S. ranks so low is that the success of elections has two dimensions—adherence to human rights and the administration of the elections themselves. The U.S. has scored low on the administration dimension, and on campaign finance issues in particular.

Norris is also interested in investigating other reasons that lead to low electoral integrity. Although she explores several different reasons in her book, she focused on the effects of the international community on elections in her talk.

She discussed her findings that the openness of a country’s borders and the electoral integrity of its neighbors have a large impact on the electoral integrity of the country itself. She has also found that the amount of aid spending in a country had no significant result on its electoral integrity score. Although she attributes this largely to the fact that aid is going to the worst cases, she said it poses a challenge for the final leg of her project, which is to propose solutions to election failure.

Attendee Paul Bernstein was drawn to the talk by concerns about American democracy and Norris’s work in the field.

“It’s a very worthy project,” Bernstein said. “It seems to be having good influence in places that are very needy, and it seems to mirror what we in America feel, that our democracy is not the best in the world.”

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