State of the Field

In many countries, elections are a flashpoint for violence. Far too often, programs designed to prevent election violence are based on intuition instead of evidence, or efforts concentrate solely on logistical or technical support on election day. When prevention efforts fail and violence erupts, officials may respond with a counter-productive crackdown, citizens lose trust in the ability of government and the rule of law to protect them, and years of development efforts are reversed.

USIP’S Work

The U.S. Institute of Peace conducts research and training, to study and disseminate evidence of what works to reduce election-related violence. The results improve the knowledge and skills of policymakers and professionals charged with maintaining the peace, in turn helping safeguard the very processes that uphold democratic institutions. USIP also applies its research to its own programs on the ground to prevent election-related violence. The Institute’s recent work includes:

Researching What Works. When is the best time to intervene? Which methods are the most effective and cost-efficient—and in which contexts? USIP’s research probes for answers to these questions, adding essential knowledge to the practice of preventing election violence.

USIP studied the impact of eight common tactics in five nations: Bangladesh, Honduras, Malawi, Moldova, and Thailand. The findings—published in a new USIP book titled Electing Peace: Violence Prevention and Impact at the Polls—include:

  • Supporting security forces and election commissioners in providing quality election administration and security represents the most promising route to peaceful elections.
  • International monitoring of conditions leading up to a vote as well as during and after balloting has been effective in preventing violence.
  • Programs that seek to ease citizen frustrations and their sense of marginalization through voter discussions with political leaders or via initiatives to involve youth may appear to be logical and valuable tactics, but their impact is modest or unclear.

Results Shape an Emerging Field. Government officials, international organizations, and NGOs routinely request the Institute’s guidance in designing election strategies and programs. For example:

  • USIP’s research aids decision-making through briefings to the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the African Union, the European Parliament, the Carter Center, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.
  • The Institute’s findings prompted an organization that supports democratic development to shift funding to mechanisms that help police and community leaders outside urban areas anticipate violence and prevent it, or respond more quickly and effectively when it breaks out.
  • USIP is creating a guide to help decision-makers match appropriate prevention approaches to various forms of election violence.
  • In 2017, the Institute will evaluate peacebuilding efforts leading up to elections in Liberia and Kenya, adding even more data to its evidence-based study of prevention practices.

Training Practitioners. Election violence prevention has traditionally centered on engaging certain demographic groups, like youth, or the logistical aspects of election day. USIP’s courses add peacebuilding to the mix, helping participants identify election security risks and apply alternative prevention techniques for a more sustainable result.

Development and NGO officials, election commission and international organization representatives, diplomats, country specialists, and election personnel—including poll workers and security forces—attend USIP’s workshops. With guest speakers, case studies from a range of election environments, and interactive exercises, participants explore the risks and possible solutions to design effective programs to prevent violence.

Delivering Informed Support in the Field. Working through local partners, USIP supports election commissions, election monitors, the security sector, and civil society with evidence-based expertise. For example:

  • In the run-up to the peaceful 2015 elections in Burma, USIP helped the Myanmar Police Force develop a code of conduct that officers carried on election day to guide them in responding effectively to any incidents.
  • The Institute conducted pilot projects in Afghanistan in 2014 to improve the ability of communities to ensure peaceful elections and to persuade citizens to participate. As part of its broader efforts, USIP helped replicate a successful 60 Second Film Festival it supported in Pakistan a year earlier. The Institute and its local partners also leveraged cricket, poetry, and other Afghan cultural traditions for community outreach.
  • In 2013, USIP supported civic education on the importance of peaceful voting in Pakistan. It also trained 900 citizen journalists to report violence in regions where public information is harder to find. These citizen journalists were instrumental in breaking stories of women being prevented from voting. Their reports led to legislation that is under consideration to criminalize efforts to prevent women from voting.
Investing in Preventive Diplomacy
Diplomats often try to help when elections carry the risk of violence. They use their stature and leverage to persuade or coerce players to resolve disputes or refrain from violence. But the conditions for engaging successfully remain unclear. USIP’s Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow Bhojraj Pokharel is applying his experience with the U.N., the Carter Center, and as head of the Nepal Election Commission to help fill that knowledge gap by examining the role of preventive diplomacy in combating election violence.

 

Related Publications

Violence Prevention through Election Observation

Violence Prevention through Election Observation

Monday, August 24, 2020

By: Larry Garber

For many years, election-related violence has posed a serious threat to the integrity of electoral processes worldwide. To prevent or minimize such violence, the international community has often relied upon election observation missions, which incorporate an extended on-the-ground presence and proactive mediation by international and domestic actors. This report discusses the challenge observer missions face in confronting election violence, and suggests how preventive efforts can be enhanced through improved, multi-mandate observation practices.

Type: Peaceworks

Electoral Violence

Preventing Election Violence Through Diplomacy

Preventing Election Violence Through Diplomacy

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

By: Bhojraj Pokharel

Focusing on three case studies in Africa, this book analyzes the utility of diplomacy in preventing election violence. After defining and identifying the key dimensions of preventive diplomacy to prevent or reduce election violence, it looks at presidential elections between 2006 and 2017 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, and Nigeria. Drawing on personal experience, the literature, case study reviews, and expert interviews and roundtables with academics and practitioners, the book highlights conditions for the success and the failure of preventive diplomacy, offering recommendations to the international community for maximizing the efficacy of this unique tool.

Type: Book

Electoral Violence

Scott Worden on Afghan Elections and the Peace Process

Scott Worden on Afghan Elections and the Peace Process

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

By: Scott Worden

A week and a half after Afghan presidential polls, the results remain unclear. But, we do know that turnout was historically low, largely due to dire security conditions. Meanwhile, with the peace process stalled, USIP’s Scott Worden says the upsurge in U.S. military operations against the Taliban is a “pressure tactic, not a victory strategy.”

Electoral Violence; Democracy & Governance; Peace Processes

What to Watch for in Afghanistan’s Presidential Election

What to Watch for in Afghanistan’s Presidential Election

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

By: Scott Worden; Colin Cookman

After several delays, Afghans will finally head to the polls on Saturday to elect their next president. The election comes amid an indefinite stall in the year-long U.S.-Taliban negotiations following the cancellation of a high-level summit earlier in the month. There has been a debate over the sequencing of elections and the peace process for months, but the vote will move ahead this weekend. As with all post-2001 Afghan elections, security risks and the potential for fraud and abuse loom over these polls. USIP’s Scott Worden and Colin Cookman look at how insecurity will impact the legitimacy of the vote and what measures have been taken to combat electoral mismanagement and fraud.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Electoral Violence; Democracy & Governance

View All Publications