A report [PDF] by researchers at Harvard and the University of Sydney finds the U.S. ranks just 26th on a global index of election integrity. That finding places the U.S. in the category of nations with "Moderate" election integrity, ranking the country one notch above Mexico and one notch below Micronesia, according to the findings tracking elections in 66 countries.
The report, compiled earlier this year and published last month in the American Political Science Association's PS: Political Science and Politics journal, "aims to evaluate the quality of elections held around the world." It is the first of a planned annual series from the Electoral Integrity Project. The organization describes itself as "an independent non-profit scholarly research project based at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and the University of Sydney's Department of Government and International Relations, funded by the Australian Research Council and other research bodies."
The group aims to document "why elections fail and what we can do about it."
This year's assessments by 855 election experts around the world are indexed and included in the survey which covers "all national parliamentary and presidential elections held in independent nation-states (with a population of more than 100,000) over an eighteen month period from 1 July 2012 to 31 December 2013."
"Based on a survey collecting the views of election experts, the research aims to provide independent and reliable evidence to compare whether countries meet international standards of electoral integrity," the report's introduction explains. "The study collects 49 indicators to compare elections and countries around the globe."
While the researchers found even worse problems in the elections of many younger countries, some of those nations still managed to out-perform the U.S. on the overall ranking, as we brought up the tail end of Western democratic nations, according to the experts' analysis, as described in one of bullet-points summarizing the report's findings [emphasis in original]...
- Experts were also critical about electoral flaws in certain long-established democracies, such as Italy and Japan. Most strikingly, the United States ranks 26th out of 73 elections worldwide, the lowest score among Western nations. Experts highlighted concern over processes of redistricting, voter registration, and campaign finance in American elections.
"It is also striking," the researchers wrote, "that despite centuries of elections, in the 2012 presidential contests, the United States was ranked only 26th worldwide by experts in the overall comparison of electoral integrity. This rating was similar to countries such as Mexico, Mongolia, and Georgia."
"Further analysis of the data showed that experts reduced the overall score for the United States due to concern about the quality of their electoral laws, voter registration, the process of drawing district boundaries, as well as regulation of campaign finance," the study notes.
"Voter registration, in particular, has become increasingly polarized and litigious in the United States ever since the 2000 'Florida' debacle, generating growing controversy in state-houses and the courts and a blue-ribbon Presidential Commission. The PEI [Perceptions of Election Integrity index] evaluations suggest that the role of money in American politics, and the redistricting process, both deserve more detailed scrutiny."
"The 'moderate' category," which the U.S. finds itself near the top of, "also included many other diverse societies and types of regimes, including states such as Ghana, Bhutan, Montenegro, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Philippines," according to the report.
Much attention focuses on ballot-stuffing, ballot-box fraud, and irregularities in the vote count. But in fact problems may arise at any step in the process, such as from the fairness of electoral laws, malaportionment of district boundaries, disparities in access to campaign funds and media coverage, the exclusion of candidates or parties from the ballot, and so on.
Although much commentary focuses on problems occurring on polling day in the voting process and ballot count, in fact the evidence...shows that campaign finance and campaign media coverage are the most problematic stages.
The report concludes that "The regulation of money in politics deserves greater attention by domestic actors and the international community when seeking to reduce corruption, the abuse of state resources, and vote-buying, to strengthen public confidence in elections, and to ensure a level playing field for all parties and candidates."
Of the 11 different categories rated by the experts for use in determining placement on this year's final index, the U.S. score was particularly dinged by low ratings in the categories of "Voting District Boundaries", "Electoral Laws", "Voter Registration" and "Campaign Finance".
Nations with elections found to have more integrity than the U.S., as per the study's benchmarks, include Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Iceland, Czech Republican, South Korea, Austria, Slovenia, Israel, Cyprus, Lithuania, Australia, Rwanda, Japan, Chile, Italy, Grenada, Malta, Argentina, Georgia, Mongolia and Micronesia.
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