What are the fundamental principles for genuinely democratic elections? How can states realise these principles in practice? This section from the National Democratic Institute publication Promoting Legal Frameworks for Democratic Elections examines electoral-related human rights law and principles. Honouring citizens’ collective right to genuine elections and establishing and maintaining public confidence in elections requires inclusiveness, transparency and accountability.
The right to genuine democratic elections involves a wide range of internationally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms. State practice demonstrates a developing normative process concerning electoral-related rights. International human rights instruments prohibiting discrimination and recognising universal and equal suffrage and equality before the law underpin electoral rights. These rights interrelate through the principles of inclusiveness, transparency and accountability in the electoral context. The degree to which these principles are upheld determines the level of public confidence in elections and in the governments that result from them.
The three basic principles for elections found in international human rights instruments are interdependent:
- Inclusiveness: An anti-discrimination norm obliges states to ensure inclusiveness for both voters and those seeking to be elected. This requires universal and equal suffrage, equality before the law, equal protection of the law and redress for violations.
- Transparency: The freedom to seek, receive and impart information, which is integral to freedom of expression, provides the basis for transparency in elections. The rights to vote and seek election cannot be exercised without this freedom.
- Accountability: The accountability principle helps to realise electoral inclusiveness. It is also linked to transparency, which is needed to understand how officials are conducting public affairs and hold them answerable for their actions.
Public confidence is essential to democratic elections and relates to both electoral competitors and prospective voters. To ensure inclusiveness, transparency and accountability and maintain public confidence in elections, states have an obligation to:
- Avoid unnecessary restrictions on the right to vote. They must identify factors that prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote and take positive measures to overcome these factors.
- Ensure that requirements for legal recognition of political parties or access to the ballot are based on justifiable criteria and are not unreasonably restrictive. They must also ensure that candidates are protected against intimidation and coercion.
- Ensure that no legal or administrative obstacles prevent electoral contestants from providing, or citizens receiving, information as part of the election campaign.
- Provide the electorate and those seeking election with sufficient, timely information about voting, registration and other electoral matters. They should also provide information on electoral processes and accept the presence of electoral monitors.
- Establish effective means of redress for violations of electoral rights. This includes criminal liability for violations of fundamental electoral rights, and administrative accountability measures to hold government agencies to account.
- Make sure that election processes are both correctly and impartially carried out and perceived to be so. States must ensure that voting and counting procedures safeguard the secrecy of the ballot.