Meeting Addresses Increasing Cooperation
First Global Electoral Organization Conference Held in Ottawa
by Jeff Fischer and Margaret Lamb
Elections Today: News from the International Foundation for Election Systems
Сanada's capital, Ottawa, was the setting for the first worldwide gathering of regional associations of election officials, held April 11-14, 1999. The Global Electoral Organization (GEO) Network Conference, organized by the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), the United Nations, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and hosted by Elections Canada, addressed the growing movement toward cooperation in international electoral assistance, the sharing of experiences between election practitioners from around the world, and ways election officials and their associations could assist each other. Participants included representatives of twelve associations of election management bodies; representatives of more than fifteen bilateral development agencies, foreign ministries, and international financial institutions; and others interested in supporting electoral governance and democratic processes.
The organizations and individuals responsible for the massive task of organizing democratic elections range from small government departments to large and powerful independent commissions. No matter how large or small, their task is the same: they are called on to deliver elections which are accessible to and inspire the confidence of the entire population of eligible voters. Even this straightforward statement of purpose does not give a complete picture of the myriad tasks that they must perform: registering voters, political parties, and candidates; delimiting electoral boundaries; acquiring millions of dollars worth of election services, supplies, and equipment; organizing polling station logistics; training veritable armies of pollworkers; transmitting vote counts; and resolving a wide range of election-related disputes. In carrying out these tasks, they face daunting logistical and political hurdles which are often underappreciated and underestimated.
Recognizing the benefits of international
cooperation, the GEO Network Conference offered participants the opportunity to hear what types of activities each regional association had undertaken or planned; to identify the common needs shared by all associations and their members and the resources required to meet those needs; and to discuss organizational and programmatic models for future collaboration and cooperative ventures, whether among members of the same regional association, between associations, or with the supporters of electoral governance projects. For the institutional representatives - the international organizations, bilateral development agencies, and other supporters of democratic initiative programming-the Conference represented a forum in which to convey their priorities and to exchange programming ideas with practitioners.
In order to meet these objectives in a conference setting, the program was divided into several sections. First, the twelve associations gave reports on the history and activities of their groups. This plenary session was followed by Working Groups which discussed the lessons learned from association development in greater detail. Reports of the Working Groups were shared with the general assembly.
Three examples of collaborative ventures were presented for the first time to a global audience; the ACE (Administration and Cost of Elections) Project, the EPIC (Elections Process Information Collection) Project, and Strategic Capacity Building. ACE, which was formally inaugurated in October 1998 at a ceremony at United Nations headquarters, was the subject of parallel training workshops so that participants could return to their regions and show others how to use this compilation of text and sample materials. The ACE partner organizations (the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the United Nations, and 1FES) solicited and received substantive feedback regarding the information and materials in ACE during the conference and hope to receive further suggestions on how ACE can meet the information needs of election officials and other target audiences once they have a chance to make greater use of it. The conference proceedings concluded with a presentation on the role of election authorities as institutions of governance and a discussion of future activities needed to enhance cooperation in the field of election administration. The focus of the Conference then turned to a round-table discussion where the needs and priorities of funders were presented so that they could be matched with the needs and priorities of the practitioners. Th ' Conference concluded with a presentation on the role of the election management body as an institution of governance.
«This conference is a unique opportunity for those of us entrusted with the tremendous responsibility of delivering trustworthy elections which are accessible to the full voting population,' said Jean-Pierre Kjngsley, Canada's Chief Electoral Officer. «The ability to share our knowledge, our expertise, and our experiences to better meet the challenges of electoral administration and democratic governance in the 21st century is of benefit to us all.» Participants commented that it was helpful to learn that their counterparts in other parts of the world faced many of the same challenges and that by working together and learning from each other they could better meet those challenges.
The Conference also established a follow-on mechanism for a GEO Network. At the conclusion of the Conference, the organizers and Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (Instituto Federal Electoral - IFE) signed a Letter of Intent to cooperate and coordinate on electoral governance projects. The Conference directed this Partnership to provide follow-on support for GEO Network communications and activities. Elections Canada is the first focal point for the Partnership, and hence, for the GEO Network.
The GEO Network Conference is a clear indicator of the impact of electoral governance initiatives. It would not have been possible to hold this meeting ten years ago, since most of these associations-and even many of their member election bodies-did not exist at that time. In the 1990s, meetings of regional election associations have spread as a means to promote professional development within the election administration field and to foster greater collaboration between election bodies. These types of networking activities have also helped bring well-deserved recognition to election administration as an important and dynamic profession.
Four Corporate Underwriters-Avant, Inc., CODE Inc., Global Election Systems, and Unitek Electoral Systems-also contributed funding to the Conference.