Giving a Voice: IFES’ 2016 Year in Review

Giving a Voice: IFES’ 2016 Year in Review Featured Image

As the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2017, this year we continued our work around the world to ensure that citizens have a say in how they are governed. In countries like Jordan, Georgia and Haiti, IFES contributed its expertise as the global leader in democracy promotion to assist our local partners in conducting credible elections. Our reputation as a thought leader in the field of election administration was bolstered by the 2016 U.S. Election Program (USEP) and the Seventh Global Elections Organization Conference (GEO-7), as well as the production of a number of technical publications on important electoral issues.

Special Events

On September 13, IFES held its seventh annual Charles T. Manatt Democracy Awards ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C. This year’s awardees included Nay Lin Soe, a disability rights advocate and Founder and CEO of the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Bay Fang, Radio Free Asia Managing Director, emceed the awards ceremony, which was co-chaired by IFES Board Director and Director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Project on Prosperity and Development Dan Runde and former U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Theodore Sedgwick.

With global attention on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, IFES gathered 550 participants from 90 countries for the 2016 USEP and GEO-7 Conference from November 6-10. The 2016 USEP and GEO-7 was the largest international gathering of election professionals of the year and the 13th hosted by IFES since 1992. This flagship event brings together election officials, parliamentarians and diplomats from around the world to observe and learn about the U.S. electoral system as well as discuss elections and voting from comparative international perspectives. At a ceremony during the USEP, IFES honored Chafik Sarsar, president of Tunisia’s Independent High Authority for Elections, with its 2016 Joe C. Baxter Award. GEO-7 brought together electoral practitioners and experts to exchange knowledge and share experiences and provided a forum for networking and debate on transparency and accountability in elections. GEO partners include the Association of European Election Officials, IFES, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Mexico’s National Electoral Institute, the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division and the United Nations Development Programme.

Thought Leadership

IFES produced several technical publications for the USEP and GEO-7 Conference, which highlighted IFES’ thought leadership on a variety of hot-button electoral topics. “Internally Displaced Persons and Electoral Participation: A Brief Overview” outlines international laws and standards relating to internally displaced persons (IDPs) participation, as well as operational practices and challenges surrounding IDP participation such as issues of election representation, electoral integrity, residency and documentation requirements, and security issues. “The Hierarchy of Laws: Understanding and Implementing the Legal Frameworks that Govern Elections” is intended as a guide for election practitioners who are interpreting, developing, and implementing legal and regulatory frameworks for elections, and who should understand the hierarchy of these laws.

The “Violence Against Women in Elections (VAWIE) Framework” represents the culmination of intensive research and fieldwork and is intended to improve the capacity of international and domestic practitioners to understand and reduce VAWIE. “Women and Political Transition: The Risk of Replicating Inequality and the Fundamental Need for Gender Parity in Decision-Making,” authored by IFES Senior Gender Specialist Jessica Huber, outlines IFES’ gender-specific programming, which examines and responds to points along the continuum of crisis, political transition and stable democracy.

Election Assistance

On September 20, Jordanians elected their 18th Parliament under a new open list proportional representation electoral system. IFES served as a significant source of technical, operational, and strategic guidance for Jordan’s electoral stakeholders. IFES carried out a nationwide voter information campaign that distributed over two million educational materials across digital, print, and social media. Access to polling stations for persons with disabilities improved dramatically following over a year of IFES’ targeted analysis, programming, and advocacy for improved access. In the lead-up to the 2016 elections, IFES also worked closely with the Independent Election Commission on communications training; revising election dispute procedures; strategic planning; and legal, procedural, and policy recommendations.

Georgia held its parliamentary elections on October 8, a highly anticipated vote serving as a test for the country’s still-evolving democracy. IFES and the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC), led by Chairperson Tamar Zhvania, engaged in a broad array of cooperative efforts in the lead up to the election. IFES worked very closely with the CEC to improve electoral administration, increase transparency in its operations, and have it become a more inclusive and accessible body to the voters. Of particular significance was IFES’ assistance in strengthening electoral security by establishing new procedures and clear responsibilities of the CEC and Ministry of Internal Affairs. IFES also helped support the development of the CEC’s first gender policy in advance of the October elections.

On November 20, Haitians voted for president in an unprecedented re-run elections, held in tandem with elections for a third of the Senate and second-round parliamentary elections. IFES’ work with election officials and civil society helped to improve the credibility of the Haitian electoral process. Particularly, during the first half of 2016, IFES provided technical support to the Provisional Electoral Council to enhance its communication with internal and external stakeholders and increase voter turnout. A broader civic awareness and voter education campaign was conducted in collaboration with five civil society organizations, which received in-kind grants that strengthened their capacity to carry out citizen outreach and education. Also, IFES implemented face-to-face civic awareness activities with the local community in Haiti’s 10 departments, and conducted trainings targeting electoral and non-electoral stakeholders on how to respond to and mitigate violence against women in elections. Other training included Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections workshops on media and elections, gender and elections, and civic and voter education.

Following the historic November 2015 elections in Myanmar, IFES published five reports in 2016 that provide important data on the accomplishments of the 2015 elections and outline recommendations for the 2020 electoral cycle. These documents are a result of continued collaboration between IFES, the Union Election Commission, civil society organizations, political parties, voters, domestic and international observers and implementers. The data and recommendations from these reports guided IFES’ work in 2016 to advance legal and regulatory reform and support initiatives for strategic planning, civic education and gender and disability inclusion.

Other Highlights

From May 11-13, IFES organized the first regional disability rights dialogue on political participation in the Pacific Islands region. This conference brought together disability rights advocates and election management bodies to discuss political participation of persons with disabilities. Advocates voted on priority recommendations to make to the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand Electoral Administrator’s (PIANZEA) network. As a result, PIANZEA adopted language supporting the right of persons with disabilities to participate in elections on an equal basis.

On May 18, IFES Africa Regional Director Rushdi Nackerdien testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations on “Democracy Support Strategies in Africa.” Nackerdien recommended “that the U.S. Government prioritize electoral assistance that is locally contextualized; is inclusive of women, people with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities, and other underrepresented groups; develops local expertise; and consistently invests early and throughout the electoral cycle.”

Since 1990, the Venice Commission has been active in advising its member states on constitutional and legal issues, as a key advisory body of the Council of Europe. On June 9, IFES was officially extended observer status before the Venice Commission’s Council for Democratic Elections, which handles all of the Commission’s work in this field. “IFES is very pleased to have observer status and we plan to make the most of it. The Venice Commission’s work often impacts and informs IFES’ work on the ground in many countries,” IFES Vice President of Programs Michael Svetlik said.

For more on IFES’ work to give a vote to every voice, please visit IFES.org. We would like to thank all of our partners and supporters for their efforts to promote sustainable democracy this year and we look forward to working with you in 2017, as IFES continues to advance its democratic mission to give a vote to every voice.