REGULAR FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
For this, we need free and fair elections. In fact, in order for a country to truly be a democracy, its elections must be both free and fair. But this basic facet of democracy is increasingly in doubt, even in places like the European Union. For example, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which carries out election observations, assessed Hungary’s last election as free but not fair. With Poland’s judiciary now almost fully under the control of the government, there is doubt about its impartiality should election cases come before it, as happened last year when it upheld the victory of the ruling party.
There are many necessary components of free and fair elections, although all of them are fairly straightforward and to be expected in true democracies. Specifically, there are eight standards that must be met for an election to be free and fair. But it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not only about the elections themselves. There is a system around elections that, in order for them to be free and fair, must be vibrant and free from government meddling.
When speaking about elections directly, it’s things like voter registration, rules on political campaigning, ease of voting, and independence of elections commission, among other things, that ensure free and fair elections. On the system around the elections, we mean things like whether you’ve got room for critical NGOs and critical media, and the quality of (civic) education and quality of media coverage. These things help ensure that the public has access to factual information and can have informed public debate outside the electoral race period.
Here are the eight crucial standards elections must meet in order to be considered free and fair:
2.Voters have access to reliable information
3.Citizens can run (In a democracy with free and fair elections, governments exist for the people, are empowered by the people, and are made up of the people. A citizen who is eligible to vote should also be eligible to run for office.)
4.All voters are able to vote
5.Voters aren’t intimidated
6.Voting is free for fraud
7.Ballots are counted accurately and the correct results are reported (Counting all ballots and giving an accurate reporting of that count are essential parts of a free and fair election. Ballots must not be altered or thrown out after they are cast.)
8.The results are respected (This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s one standard that’s recently been tested even in the United States. In free and fair elections, the loser accepts the result. Especially if they’re the one already in power. Peaceful transitions of power underpin democracy.)
In conclusion, with the proliferation of disinformation and the ongoing state capture of media, currently ongoing in several EU states, one area to focus on is the media. Making sure that governments don’t spread misinformation, that citizens have access to reliable information, that all candidates and parties are able to get media coverage and have their voices heard – these are things that are currently under threat and must be addressed in order to secure free and fair elections.
We should also support to work of non-governmental organizations and citizen groups. These act as a bridge between citizens and politicians. They allow for dialogue between the two, help inform public debate on important issues and on elections, and can also help citizens, especially those who are elderly or living with a disability, exercise their right to vote.
Lera Domashenko, Sumy State University