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Four Ways USAID Encouraged Free and Fair Elections Worldwide

Read about election programs in Zambia, Mali, Peru, and Moldova

Malian voters wearing face masks look at the voters roll during the parliamentary elections in Bamako on March 29, 2020. / Michele Cattani, AFP

Elections are crucial to a nation’s stability, level of governance, and capacity to address the objectives of its inhabitants. However, there has been a substantial change in the global electoral climate during the last several years.

Authoritarians are developing new and sophisticated strategies to rig elections and increase their hold on power.

Disinformation is being used by a wide range of players, including foreign players, to foment discord and sabotage elections. Women and marginalized groups, including members of racial and religious minorities, are subject to increased efforts to restrict their electoral participation.

USAID continues to modify its global initiatives to support honest, democratic elections that accurately represent the will of the people even as the issues get increasingly difficult. Here are four instances of how USAID helped the 2021 elections.

Encouraging Adherence to Democratic Reforms

An unprecedented number of Zambians voted in August 2021 to elect a new government devoted to democratic reforms. After a decade of democratic regress caused by a regime that incarcerated activists and political figures and restricted individuals’ basic liberties including the right to free speech and peaceful assembly, this was achieved. USAID enhanced peace and security surrounding the elections by supporting the electoral institutions and civil society organizations, particularly their long-term domestic observation operations.

In order to determine how the Agency and the international community can support the needs of democratic institutions and electoral stakeholders to contribute to free and fair elections and the consolidation of democracy in the upcoming years, USAID recently conducted an electoral assessment in Zambia using its new Electoral Assessment Framework. The analysis findings are anticipated in the upcoming weeks.

Supporting an Open, Credible, and Transparent Election

Mali saw months of widespread demonstrations following parliamentary elections in 2020, which were followed by a military coup, exposing flaws in electoral administration and conflict resolution. Election reforms were started by Mali’s transitional administration to strengthen the monitoring of campaign money, create an independent management agency, and boost transparency in election results and dispute settlement.

In order to assist with this process, USAID assessed the risks and weaknesses in the electoral system that needed to be fixed if elections were to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.

The evaluation resulted in a project where USAID helped design Mali’s new election law and backed local civil society organizations as they lobbied Mali’s interim parliament on behalf of the draft legislation. On June 24, 2022, the bill was signed into law. It had numerous features backed by USAID, such as improved voting access for people with impairments and a 30% female quota for the majority of elections.

The new electoral legislation established a broad-representation Independent Authority for Election Management (AIGE), which is constitutionally required to schedule elections, organize vote tallying, and make preliminary results public. Additionally, the AIGE is tasked with encouraging communication among election participants and reporting election law breaches to the legal system for punishment. USAID will continue to assist the AIGE in the upcoming months in order to assist stakeholders in comprehending new electoral law provisions, fostering openness and confidence in electoral procedures, and successfully managing elections for constitutional democracy.

Voter and Civic Education is Provided

More than 56 million people were internationally reached by USAID’s local partners in 2021 through civic and voter education. This includes Peru, where the chance for USAID to offer crucial support during the national election cycle was made possible by the Peruvians’ reinvigorated enthusiasm for good government and citizen involvement.

The local civil society partners of USAID provided civic and voter education to youth and people of Afro descent. Additionally, USAID assisted political parties and candidates with strategic communications to enhance their capacity to interact with various social media audiences. Finally, Peru’s National Office of Electoral Processes and Peru’s National Elections Jury were able to conduct the elections despite COVID-19-related public health constraints thanks to USAID’s technical assistance.

Prior to the regional and municipal elections in October 2022, USAID will offer a comparable level of assistance.

Supporting a Weak Democracy in a Dangerous Area

Maia Sandu was elected as Moldova’s first female president in November 2020, and in July 2021, in crucial quick legislative elections, voters in Moldova went back to the polls.

USAID assisted the Central Election Commission in strengthening its cybersecurity defences, implementing public health measures in response to COVID-19, and conducting transparent election administration. The Agency supported political parties of all stripes in becoming stronger so that their policies would more accurately reflect and address voter concerns.

In a climate of widespread misinformation, USAID also assisted domestic election observers in consistently tracking the lead-up to, election day, and post-election periods. This gave Moldovan voters a neutral, impartial judgment of how much they could trust the process. Furthermore, USAID encouraged political discussions that assisted voters in making well-informed decisions about their future.

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