Judging from an electoral integrity perspective: the final piece of the democratic puzzle

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By Reyes Rodríguez Mondragón

Numerous reports on the state of democracy in the world show the deterioration of the health of this system. According to the V-Dem Institute, in the last decade misinformation, polarization and bureaucratization have increased and these phenomena reinforce each other. Also, there is a disenchantment with democracy in the Latin American region, based – among other factors – on the severe levels of social and economic inequality that hinder political participation through institutional means. And, according to the Latinobarómetro 2023 survey report, in recent years support for authoritarian governments has increased.

Given these unfavorable indicators regarding the democratic system, the stability of the results in terms of electoral integrity stands out. The data on the perception of the integrity of the elections does not show significant changes, neither up nor down, which highlights the strength of the electoral system worldwide, particularly in some stages of the electoral cycle, such as electoral procedures, vote counting and results. Given this scenario, it is relevant to ask, what makes it possible to maintain the quality of elections, despite the decline or deterioration of other dimensions of democracy? And, what institutions are those that contribute to the strength of democratic elections?

To answer the question, this article proposes, as a preliminary answer, that electoral justice and those who administer it – the electoral judges – have a fundamental role in democracies, since by defending the legality of the elections and punishing the undemocratic practices, contributes to the integrity of the elections and, thereby, to raising their quality. In this sense, the electoral courts have a double role. The first is to enforce the first guarantee of democracy: the laws. In this way, electoral justice promotes electoral processes that comply with national regulations, with globally accepted democratic values ​​and with the international standards that must govern them. When these primary guarantees fail, and violations of integrity occur, the courts fulfill a second function. This means detecting, repairing or punishing any damage to elections. In this way, electoral courts apply laws and principles to correct and resolve situations in which the integrity of the elections has been compromised.

Election Integrity

Electoral integrity is a political, social and academic perspective concerned with the quality of elections in the world. In that sense, according to International IDEA, an election is fair when it is based “on the democratic principles of universal suffrage and political equality as reflected in international agreements and standards, and is professional, impartial and transparent in its preparation.” and administration throughout the electoral cycle. (IDEA, 2012: 13)”. Based on these elements and academic contributions, it has been recognized that electoral integrity has three main components:

1. International conventions and treaties, as well as standards recognized in the world, which must be enforced, since they contain globally accepted democratic values ​​(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among others). ).

2. Universality, since integrity is not a characteristic applicable only during electoral processes in consolidated democracies, it is applicable to all democracies in the world.

3. The cyclical nature of integrity, since it is evaluated throughout the electoral cycle, which includes 11 stages. Affectation or success in one stage does not guarantee a corresponding effect in the others.

The political and social perspective of this approach has focused on the need to generate political agreements between the various actors, institutions and civil society. For its part, the academy proposes, from a multidisciplinary approach, different ways to measure electoral integrity. One of these ways is to measure elections based on the opposite of integrity: the presence or absence of electoral malpractices. The number and severity of these practices diminish the integrity of elections. On the contrary, the less the manipulation throughout the electoral cycle, the greater the degree of integrity in the election.

Electoral justice and election integrity

As mentioned above, from the electoral courts, paying for integrity means raising the quality of the elections through a double function. The first is to ensure the legality of the elections; while the second is to analyze, repair and, where appropriate, punish the violation of integrity, in the form of electoral malpractices. These are conceived from specialized literature as “the manipulation of electoral processes and results to replace personal or partisan benefit with public interest” (Birch, 2011: 14). Some of the most common are the purchase and coercion of votes, the use of illicit resources for campaign financing, the intervention of public officials in elections, and media bias, among the most common.

Bad practices have multiple consequences in modern democracies: they damage public confidence in electoral processes; they impact respect for the democratic rule of law; and affect the legitimacy of elected authorities and the political system as a whole. Bad practices are the result of a combination of several elements that political actors weigh among themselves, against the opportunity to commit them, for example, the effectiveness of the options and the costs associated with these practices, based on existing sanctions. and the probability of being punished.

It is clear that electoral judges have a fundamental role in electoral processes, their integrity and legitimacy. Its rulings and jurisprudence serve as a compass for all political actors, generating incentives that encourage or inhibit specific behaviors. In this way, actors can make decisions based on the expected cost or benefit of following electoral rules.

Judge from the perspective of electoral integrity

By analyzing the cases in which the Electoral Tribunal has used the integrity approach, and doing an inductive exercise, some central elements of what can be defined as judging with an integrity perspective are proposed below. These are the following:

  • Take into account all the relevant properties of the case under analysis, such as the normative assumptions, the comprehensive context, the available evidence and the actors involved.
  • Analyze the matter in light of the applicable principles, values ​​and standards, to warn of possible bad practices that may violate electoral integrity.
  • Recognize the responsibility that the different actors have during each of the stages of the electoral cycle.
  • Identify areas of opportunity in current legislation, as well as in the behavior of political parties, in the conduct of people who are pre-candidates and candidates, public servants and electoral, administrative and jurisdictional authorities.

Based on these elements put into practice in cases of electoral malpractices and electoral crimes, electoral justice can substantively contribute to the holding of complete elections, that is, more free, fair, clean, transparent and competitive, that comply with the demands of a plural and democratic society.

Final thoughts

This article shows the way in which the jurisdictional function strengthens the integrity of elections by including the electoral integrity approach in its decision-making, promoting a virtuous circle in which the following actions must be carried out:

  • Promote equity in the contest throughout the electoral cycle.
  • Punish bad practices that erode the legitimacy of elections.
  • Promote citizen confidence in electoral authorities and in democracy as a whole.

Latin America still faces important challenges, especially in the campaign period, in areas such as media coverage – which must be equitable –, political financing, and the transparency that parties must make of their expenses. Applying the electoral integrity perspective implies reaffirming the rights and principles that are already part of our regulatory frameworks and international treaties supported by democratic nations. From the dissemination and adoption of this type of approaches, it will be possible to strengthen the administration of electoral justice as a way to consolidate the quality of elections and democracy in Mexico and the world.

Author Profile

Nathan Rivera
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Nathan Rivera, a dedicated journalist who has had the privilege of writing for the online newspaper Today90. My journey in the world of journalism has been a testament to the power of dedication, integrity, and passion.

My story began with a relentless thirst for knowledge and an innate curiosity about the events shaping our world. I graduated with honors in Investigative Journalism from a renowned university, laying the foundation for what would become a fulfilling career in the field.

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At Today90, I continue to be a driving force behind journalistic excellence. My tireless dedication to fair and accurate reporting is an invaluable asset to the editorial team. My biography is a living testament to the importance of journalism in our society and a reminder that a dedicated journalist can make a difference in the world.