This rapid literature review explains the stages of an election cycle, and how donors provide support to electoral cycles. It draws mainly on policy guidance websites and papers due to the questions of this review and the level of analysis taken (global-level, donor-level). It focuses on publications from the last five years, and/or current/forthcoming donor strategies.
The electoral cycle and its stages are well-established policy concepts for which there is widespread acceptance and use. Donor support to electoral cycles (through electoral assistance and electoral observation) is extremely widespread, and the dominant donors in this area are the multilateral organisations like the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU), and also the United States (US). While almost all bilateral donors also carry out some work in this area, “almost all major electoral support programmes are provided jointly with international partners” (DFID, 2014, p.5). Bilateral donors may provide broader support to democratic governance initiatives, which may not be framed as electoral assistance, but may contribute to the wider enabling environment. All of the donors reviewed in this query emphasise that their programmes are designed according to the local context and needs, and thus, beyond the big actors – EU, UN and US, there is little overarching information on what the donors do in this area.
While there is a significant literature base in the broad area of electoral support, it tends to be focussed at the country, programme, or thematic, level, rather than at the global, or donor, level taken by this paper. There was a peak in global-level publications on this subject around 2006, the year the electoral cycle model was published by the European Commission, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This review concludes by providing examples of the electoral assistance work carried out by five donors (UN, EU, US, UK and Germany).
Key findings from this review include:
The electoral cycle is a conceptual and planning tool that was developed to ensure that electoral assistance is consistent, integrated, long-term, and proactive, rather than event-based, siloed, short-term, and responsive (ACE, n.d.a; Fath-Lihic & Brancati, 2017, p.6). Through the election cycle lens, the election period is seen as a phase in a longer-term process of democratisation, which is made up of many interdependent stages and building blocks, and where the breakdown of one stage can negatively affect another (ACE, n.d.a). The tool helps governments and donors
plan and allocate resources in a timely way and to ensure that activities and phases are not forgotten. Section 3 collates information from the donor agencies provided on their websites, and in some cases, from their strategy documents. In the time available, it was not possible to verify if the donors are indeed engaging in the areas they set as broad priorities. This rapid review carried out searches on the donors listed as working in the area of electoral assistance by Norris (2017) – starting with the two biggest multilateral donors, before moving onto the bilateral donors. However, beyond the US, this rapid review found little high-level/strategic-level information about bilateral donor electoral assistance. The UK and Germany have been included as examples, despite limited information. Similar rapid searches carried out for Canada and the Netherlands yielded little information. Further work could focus on donor support in a few case study countries, as more specific detail is available at the country level, and as all donors agree that their programmes are designed according to the local context.
There are some broad phases in the cycle that are relatively universal (for countries that have elections), yet the detail of each election cycle differs according to the context – e.g. what kind of elections are happening; when, how they coincide with other elections, the legal context, etc. (ACE, n.d.). The broad stages are the pre-election period; election period, and post-election period. Within these three broad stages, there are a number of sub-phases: Pre-election period (legal phase, planning and implementation, training and education, voter registration, and electoral campaign); election period (voting operations and election day, and verification of results); and post-election period. The election cycle tool can be applied to specific thematic issues within an election cycle to help plan activities – such as gender mainstreaming or supporting technology needs throughout the electoral cycle.
Electoral assistance includes legal, operational, and logistical support to electoral laws, procedures, and institutions. Electoral assistance programmes cover a broad range of areas, including electoral administration; the review and reform of constitutional principles; voter registration; media training; civic education; engagement of underrepresented groups; and electoral security; etc. Electoral assistance tends to come under programming in the areas of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 ‘peaceful and inclusive societies’,2 and/or under workstreams related to democracy, human rights and governance, with thematic, geographic and modality priorities varying across donor agencies and according to the context (Norris, 2017). Key multilateral actors that fund and/or implement electoral assistance include the UN, EU, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the African Union. Important bilateral actors include the US; Germany, UK, and the Netherlands. They work with a dense network of local and international actors in implementation, advocacy, research and monitoring (Norris, 2017). Electoral assistance programmes may be initiated with electoral needs assessment missions.