Pippa Norris Photo

Pippa Norris

Appointment
Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics
Office Address
79 John F. Kennedy St. Littauer Bldg 110
617-495-1475
Norris, Pippa. Why Elections Fail. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Abstract

The spread of elections to all parts of the globe has been one of the most dramatic developments transforming our world during the twentieth century. Yet, as numerous reports have highlighted, the quality of contemporary contests commonly fails. Contentious elections undermine the legitimacy of elected authorities, political participation, and stability in fragile states. The trilogy of books explores many issues concerning electoral integrity, focusing upon three main questions: What happens when elections violate international standards of electoral integrity? Why do elections fail? And what can be done to mitigate these problems? To address these questions, the study draws upon the Electoral Integrity Project, a multilevel research project generating new evidence about the quality of elections worldwide. This second volume in the trilogy seeks to determine the reasons why elections are undermined by numerous kinds of flaws. Structural, international, and institutional accounts each provide alternative perspectives to explain general processes of democratization. These theories can be adapted for plausible arguments about why elections may fail to meet international standards. The structural perspective suggests that some problems are probably best explained by the challenging conditions and the societal constraints under which contemporary elections are attempted. It is far from easy to organize effective elections in the world’s poorest societies, such as Haiti or Djibouti, where many citizens lack basic education, literacy, and access to modern transportation and communications, in rentier states rotten with corruption, and in deeply-divided societies wracked by years of conflict, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo or Afghanistan. An alternative argument focuses upon external attempts to uphold international norms, through global information flows, providing technical assistance and development aid, and monitoring elections. International processes can probably help but sustainable solutions require buy-in from domestic actors. After examining evidence testing these predominant perspectives, this book focuses upon institutional design, to explore the less common claim that the most effective interventions for strengthening contests involve the types of constitutional, legal, and administrative arrangements. Institutions are also not as rigid as fixed structural conditions, such as geography and development, but also not as transient as international electoral observation missions and development aid. The book argues that insights should be rooted in theories of electoral governance. Rules preventing political actors from abusing power through manipulating electoral governance are needed to secure electoral integrity, although at the same time electoral authorities also need sufficient resources to manage elections effectively. Drawing on new evidence, the study determines the most effective types of strategies for strengthening the quality of electoral governance.