Increased Transparency Restores Trust in Malawi Election Rerun

Speeches Shim

Monday, July 20, 2020
Malawi Election Results Forms
USAID Malawi

Citing widespread irregularities in Malawi’s 2019 presidential elections, the country’s Constitutional Court annulled the race in early February and ordered a rerun. Some of the most common irregularities cited by the judges included obvious errors in filling out electoral forms and the use of correction fluid to change mistakes. Questioning the integrity of the results, Malawians took to the streets to protest the election results and to demand greater transparency in the electoral process.

After analyzing the nullification of election results, USAID partner International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) presented its findings to the Malawi Electoral Commission. IFES help was then requested to update electoral forms and procedures to ensure their simplicity, accuracy, and compliance with the court ruling. With IFES recommendations in hand, the Electoral Commission set about making significant changes to eliminate errors that had occurred in the previous election. 

Among the most significant changes was the IFES recommendation to eliminate an entire tier in the vote tallying process.  In 2019, polling station results were aggregated at local polling centers before being sent to district tallying centers. Late into the night, exhausted polling officials worked under dim lamp light to calculate the results from polling stations into a confusing form, leading to errors and corrections. Results from individual polling stations – where voters cast their ballot – were mixed in with other polling stations, making it impossible to see where problems occurred. Following IFES guidance, the 2020 presidential election results were sent directly from polling stations to district centers. Malawi Electoral Commission staff entered data using the original polling station forms. This not only eliminated errors but allowed party agents and observers to verify that the results being tallied were from the same form they had witnessed at the polling station. The newly appointed MEC Chair highlighted this in a press briefing: “The Commission will undertake to ensure that what is uploaded onto our server is the same as the result on the original result sheet.”

With the threat of COVID-19 looming over the presidential vote, IFES also shared its research on mitigating health risks during an election. The Malawi Electoral Commission used the information to include COVID-19 precautions in training curricula, infographics, videos, and voter outreach materials. Disseminating accurate and accessible information to voters not only increased their understanding of election-day procedures, but also mitigated the risk of Covid-19 spread. 

The work of IFES – from improved voter information to an improved voting process – greatly increased public confidence in the Commission, the electoral process, and Malawi’s democratic institutions. The new election was viewed as transparent and credible, resulting in Africa’s first peaceful transfer of power to the opposition following a court-ordered presidential rerun.