Supporting Free and Fair Elections

Speeches Shim

Poll workers in Sierra Leone. /Carol Sahley, USAID
Poll workers in Sierra Leone.
Carol Sahley, USAID

Elections and other political processes are pivotal to the quality of a country’s governance and can either greatly advance or set back a country’s long-term democratic development, as well as USG country, regional, and global foreign policy priorities.

The most fundamental principle defining credible elections is that they must reflect the free expression of the will of the people.

To achieve this, elections should be transparent, inclusive, and accountable, and there must be equitable opportunities to compete in the elections. These broad principles are buttressed by several electoral process-related obligations, as well as a number of key rights and freedoms, each of which derive from public international law. The electoral cycle approach depicts elections as a continuous, integrated process made up of building blocks that interact with and influence each other, rather than as a series of isolated events.

In designing and prioritizing its support for credible elections, USAID takes into account the degree to which the host country upholds democratic principles and standards for elections. The Agency also analyzes the country’s political dynamics and assesses the key electoral stakeholders’ level of commitment and capacities in order to promote electoral integrity. Below are some examples of USAID support to elections and political processes:

  • Burma: USAID fostered democratic reforms through programming in four main areas: election administration, political party support, parliamentary strengthening, and civil society engagement, including citizen election observation. USAID also supported international observation of Burma’s 2015 general elections. 
  • Malawi: In 2020, USAID supported Malawian partners as they prepared for a court-mandated presidential re-run. USAID’s support included: technical assistance to the Malawi Election Commission, including to revise polling procedures and implement COVID-related mitigation measures; voter outreach messaging which was disseminated through radio and social media; training for political party agents; and capacity building support to a local observer coalition which fielded 6,000 domestic observers to observe election day and the tallying process.
  • The Gambia: USAID and its partners supported the Gambia’s democratic transition by deploying a team of election experts ahead of 2017 parliamentary elections to assist the electoral commission. Later, USAID followed-up with a delegation of governance experts to initiate capacity building of the President’s executive team.
  • Tunisia: For Tunisia’s 2019 historic elections, USAID and implementing partners deployed nearly 4,000 local observers and over 250 international observers, and supported a parallel vote tabulation (PVT). Prior to election day, USAID funded a series of voter education and registration activities, with a particular emphasis on targeting women, youth, and people with disabilities.  
  • Ukraine: USAID supported nationwide voter information, education and mobilization campaigns, which included targeting youth, first-time voters, internally displaced persons, and persons with disabilities and during the 2019 presidential and parliamentary election cycle. USAID also supported short term observer training for party poll watchers and political party youth wing debates.

USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Governance and Human Rights’ Elections and Political Transitions (EPT) Division provides technical leadership and support on elections and political processes and democratic political transitions to USAID field Missions and Washington bureaus, other USG entities, and the broader DRG community. This includes technical guidance, pre-election and election security assessments, strategy development, program design and evaluation assistance, training, flexible and timely funding (Elections and Political Processes Fund), access to long-term and rapid/flexible response implementing mechanisms, and policy support.