Discrepant Monitoring Practices in International Electoral Observation: The EU and OAS in Nicaragua

By Craig Arceneaux and Anika Leithner.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Civic and Political Studies

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International electoral observation has emerged as a common international practice. Those emerging democracies that dare deny access to observer teams risk the immediate loss of their democratic credentials. Given the stakes associated with electoral observation, it is disconcerting to note the significant divergences among observer reports on the same election that often characterize electoral reporting on the same election. Recent studies have attributed these differences to the various political interests and values carried by different monitoring teams. After all, electoral monitoring is a task embraced by NGOs, international organizations, national governments, and various regional arrangements. While we do not reject such interest-based explanations, we argue that the lack of SHARED standards also contributes to disagreements among electoral missions. Some missions embrace a much broader approach to democracy, and "observe" more than others. In this paper, we apply content analysis to the EU and OAS mission reports on the 2011 Nicaragua elections in order to highlight the discrepant monitoring practices. This finding raises critical questions for the practice of electoral monitoring: How do differences in standards contribute to differences in judgment? How deeply should a mission look into the democratic practices of a country as it assesses an election?

Keywords: Electoral Monitoring, Content Analysis, Democracy

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Civic and Political Studies, Volume 9, Issue 1, January 2015, pp.9-24. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 561.410KB).

Dr. Craig Arceneaux

Professor, Department of Political Science, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California, USA

Dr. Anika Leithner

Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California, USA