The Carter Center

World News


America’s Overture to International Electoral Observation

Despite the fact that foreigner observers have been welcome in many countries during their elections, in the America’s there are some countries that did not invite observers from international organizations.

The Organization of American States (OAS) has not sent missions to countries like Argentina, Chile and Canada. The latter one is a cheerful enthusiast of electoral observation and has defended this practice in OAS meetings several times.

Last year, the government of the United States invited a mission coordinated by the former president of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla to observe their election. It was the first time an international organization sent observers to the country. This year, Brazil, another relevant country in the hemisphere, invited watchdogs to monitor its general elections next year, after the signing of an agreement in Foz do Iguaçú, in the Brazilian state of Paraná, during a meeting of Electoral Authorities of Mercosur. With Brazilian adherence to this international norm, only a few countries in the region still resist inviting foreign observers.

Those events are part of a bigger trend that started during the Cold War, especially in Latin America. Countries such as Honduras and Costa Rica, who were part of a democratic wave invited monitors as a way to guarantee their recognition of democratic values. In the 90’s the missions began to specialize and more countries accepted being monitored by international organizations as they saw many benefits attached to it, such as ending fraud at polling places.

Today, the missions are far more specialized and number a diversified range of observers whose profiles can vary from scholars to professionals to high-quality electoral tribunal officials and others. They monitor much more than the voting day, and are far more preoccupied with the electoral cycle and the threats which oppose it.

Countries that are not monitored can even be criticized for the legitimacy of the electoral processes carried out in their territories. Some of the countries are Nicaragua and Venezuela. Nicaragua invited an observing mission to the municipal elections last December, after a long period of only allowing the process to be witnessed by foreigners. In Venezuela even with external enforcement the observers are still not allowed to move freely during the voting day, and the visits to the polling centers are previously determined by the national electoral council.

Venezuela benefited from international observation previously. One of those times arose a few years ago during a controversy involving a presidential recall. The Carter Center mediated the dispute between the parties and made possible Chávez reelection, without contestation.

Notwithstanding, during Chávez term observation was reduced to the accompanying status, made possible only by the presence of regional organizations, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and this is still in force today.

In countries with a long tradition in receiving watchdogs, as can be seen in Mexico, one important change is worth noting: the creation and/or consolidation of nets composed of national observers. This is special because it reinforces domestic sources of legitimacy and gives more guarantees that an electoral process adheres to democratic standards.

Regardless of the climate of uncertainty surrounding the watchdogs’ presence, where this practice is still a novelty, we can’t deny that it already occupies a significant space in contemporary international relations. As can be seen, some countries are still resistant; some are slowly accepting it and some are already its closest partner. Overall, observation has gained traction in the Americas.