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Declaration of Principles and Code of Conduct: A Q&A With Democracy Program Director David Carroll, Ph.D.

David Carroll manages the Democracy Program's projects on election observation, civil society strengthening, and promotion of the rule of law.

When did the practice of election observation first start, and when did it first start to emerge as a professional field?

Although election observation has existed for many decades, the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s triggered a dramatic expansion in the number of election observation missions. The professionalization of the field has been more gradual, first emerging through informal communication and coordination among observer groups about best practices and principles, and more recently through the formal consultations that led to the adoption of the Declaration of Principles and Code of Conduct.

The Carter Center has been engaged in election observation activities since the late 1980s, starting with several observation missions in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Center now works globally on election observation and is widely-recognized for its high standards of impartiality and professionalism.

What prompted The Carter Center, NDI, and the United Nations to undertake a project to create common standards for observation?

The proliferation of observer organizations and election observation missions in the last decade led to varying methods and different standards of professionalism and to concerns that some organizations had conflicts of interest or political agendas. In addition, there were several cases where elections were criticized by some observer organizations, yet praised by others, resulting in doubts about the credibility of election observation as a whole.

What do you think are some of the most important points in the Declaration of Principles?

The Declaration tries to reconcile the difficult tension between the imperative of respecting the sovereignty and authority of host governments and election officials, versus observer organizations' need for adequate access to all key phases of electoral processes in order to conduct their activities credibly.

Some of the most important points in the Declaration include the minimum prerequisites that must be met for credible international observation to go forward, including unimpeded access to all stages of the election process, all election technologies, and all persons involved in the process; freedom of movement, and freedom to make public statements; and the commitments to monitor all stages of the election process and harmonize observation methodologies among observer groups.

What impact do you think the Declaration will have? How will it strengthen democracy?

The Declaration will help ensure that election observation is carried out with greater consistency and credibility, thus promoting public and international confidence in election processes, as warranted. By implementing the Declaration, observer organizations will help highlight the role that democratic elections play in building genuinely democratic institutions and processes of governance.

Click here for a list of elections The Carter Center has observed.

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