Unfair Advantage: The Abuse of State Resources in Elections

Unfair Advantage: The Abuse of State Resources in Elections Featured Image
Publication Date: 
5 Apr 2017

Publication Type:

The abuse of state resources can be a major corruptive force in the electoral process, as it can introduce or exacerbate power inequalities, give unfair electoral advantage to incumbents, compromise the integrity of an election, and reduce public trust in the legitimacy of the process and its outcomes. In many countries, the abuse of state resources is not sufficiently regulated, or there are disparities between what is written in the law and what happens in practice. These gaps leave the electoral system vulnerable to manipulation by those in positions of power.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) publication “Unfair Advantage: The Abuse of State Resources in Elections,” co-authored by former Political Finance Specialist Megan Ritchie and Center for Applied Research and Learning Deputy Director Erica Shein, represents the first step in a comprehensive effort to fill that gap. The research team reviewed the legal and regulatory frameworks of a range of countries and specifically focused on provisions related to the appropriate use of a state’s institutional and financial resources, including restrictions on state personnel, state media and official government communications to the public, and the use of state funds and physical resources.

Through this analysis and an evaluation of relevant international standards, the authors identified several requirements for deterrence and mitigation of the misuse of state resources in elections, including: (1) establishing effective mechanisms to prevent public officials from taking unfair advantage of their positions in order to influence the outcome of elections; (2) ensuring effective and transparent oversight of these mechanisms by independent institutions; and (3) making available appropriate and enforceable sanctions and penalties for state officials who abuse state resources.

The paper comprehensively evaluates legal provisions in the United States focused on the prevention of specific abuses related to a state’s institutional and financial resources. The decentralized election process in the United States offers a unique opportunity to examine the federal system as well as a sampling of the various state-level legal and procedural approaches to preventing the misuse of state resources. This study also yielded examples from other country contexts that illuminate the challenges that arise for deterrence and mitigation of such abuses when legal frameworks are unclear or incomplete, or when sanctions and penalties are inappropriate, insufficient, or poorly-enforced.