Overview

A man verifies a woman's registration as she votes in Sudan
Voting in Sudan © Ezequiel Scagnetti
An effective democratic system needs regular, inclusive, transparent and credible elections. This is why the election observation delegations of the European Parliament are a fundamental aspect of its democracy support efforts.

Since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected most countries in the world. As a result, states have taken extraordinary measures to contain the spread of the virus and save lives.This, in turn, has had implications for elections scheduled in many countries and their observation. The European Parliament resumed its election observation missions in the summer of 2021.

To compensate for its absence on the ground during the peak of the pandemic, the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group held over 30 virtual pre- and post-electoral dialogues/discussions on a country-by country basis between MEPs interested in the country and relevant individuals (e.g. ambassadors, election experts etc).

The electoral cycle

Elections are events, but also processes.

The electoral process
  • begins when elections are called or scheduled,
  • includes the days when voters cast their ballot, and
  • continues after the vote.
When the losing candidates do not concede, or when there are challenges to the result, the post-electoral period can stretch on for months or more.

This entire process tests democracy, for better and for worse. Social tensions may flare, revealing - but also sometimes calming - underlying issues.

The European Parliament, with other EU and international partners, works to support its partners throughout the cycle.

Diversity of forms

Just as there is a diversity of democratic processes in the EU, different non-EU states approach elections through their own traditions.

The role of international observers is not to change these electoral processes so that they resemble those of the EU or other countries. Instead, they verify that citizens' desires are expressed and reflected, that candidates can compete on equal grounds, and that the whole process responds to local requirements.

Electronic voting, paper ballots or even marbles and drums; computer tabulation or handwritten tally marks: different systems may all work well.
Before elections

The pre-electoral period is when voters register, voter lists are established, candidates are chosen or eliminated, campaigns are financed and run, and the media focus their attention on the race.

Each of these activities makes a difference for the democratic process.

International observers have to consider all these aspects when evaluating the elections. To monitor them, long-term observers are deployed a few months ahead of Election Day throughout the country.

In recent years, the European Parliament and other international actors have focused on how to prevent pre-electoral violence.
Election observation

Observing Election Day is one of the principal ways the European Parliament supports democracy.

Because MEPs are the EU's only directly elected representatives, their contribution is essential. With personal experience of campaigns, issues of financing and the work of representing citizens, MEPs bring political legitimacy to observation missions.

Over more than three decades, the European Parliament has observed several hundred elections. Every year, MEPs travel to as many as a dozen countries across the world.
After elections

Political transitions, appeals through the court system, protests and unrest: all are elements of the post-electoral period.

Some protests and challenges point to flaws in the democratic process, though not all. A strong and independent judicial system is especially important at this time.

During the post-election period, recommendations that observers made during the elections must be followed up, and in a consistent and sustainable way.

The European Parliament has developed the Parliamentary Electoral Dialogues to ensure this happens.