Sunday, June 16, 2013

FDA Talking Points: Legislative Electoral Process

In its 2012 Electoral Fairness Report on the United States, the FDA identifies a sound legislative process including sound and effective citizen complaint and judicial processes, but weak election laws in the areas of electoral finance and media election coverage. As stated below, a legislative process is only as effective as the laws which make-up the process.
The Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) takes the position that the legislative electoral process including election law and monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, is important to a well-functioning and legitimate democracy. However, legislative electoral process is only as effective as the laws which are being monitored and enforced. For example, if there are severe fines for electoral finance wrongdoing, and yet no electoral finance transparency law, then these fines or enforcement mechanism have no consequence.

In addition, legislative electoral process with strong and comprehensive election law is contingent on sound monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. For examples, if there are laws for electoral finance transparency of all registered candidates and parties, and yet very weak penalties for electoral finance wrongdoing, then this required transparency has minimal consequence. Similarly, if there are severe fines and lengthy imprisonment for election fraud, and yet very limited monitoring mechanisms, then these fines and imprisonment will have minimal impact on an election process. Consequently, the FDA gives high audit score value to election law followed by monitoring and enforcement mechanisms and significantly less value to legislative process itself.

In its on-going 2013 international democracy audit involving 45 countries and over 75 percent of the world's population from every continent, the FDA did not include legislative process as a research variable because, as mentioned, of its dependency on election law and rules.Yet, in its assessment of rule of law for each country in the international audit, the FDA has a checklist item for legislative process in the form of an independent election administration body and citizen complaints process.

From its research on democracy worldwide since 2007, the FDA has observed pseudo democracies in many Western countries whereby electoral processes have various layers of unfair and fair processes, and with an overall cumulative impact of electoral bias to large, established political parties. Typically, these parties through their elected membership create the election laws. As long as election law is tied to an inherent conflict of interest (parties and their elected members creating the laws and rules of the elections they participate in), then the FDA believes a true people-based democracy cannot exist. Instead democracy gets hijacked by special interests through political status quo and predetermined election competition. In a special interest-based democracy, elected officials act as the front persons and the illusory basis of a people-based democracy. 

One of the best ways to gauge the legitimacy of a democracy is how much power the people have over elected officials, whether through recall, referendum, NGOs with the same political rights as parties (like in Bolivia), and direct policy and legislative say through direct democracy and citizen committees and organizations. Again, the existence of such policies and their impacts may be illusory because, for instance, the thresholds are so high for recall that this mechanism is rendered impractical and thereby useless. For example, a government which allows recall of elected officials requires a 40 percent or more signed petition of the electorate to activate a recall vote, or allows citizen-initiated referendums subject to at least a 25 percent signed petition of the electorate and approval of the government. If there is minimal public political power over elected officials like in Canada and the United States at the federal levels of government, then the FDA believes this deficiency suggests a weak democracy and maybe a non-democracy.


FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on the United States. (2013). Revised. Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from

FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on Canada. (2013) Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from

Mr. Stephen Garvey Executive Director Foundation for Democratic Advancement

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