Electoral Systems and Processes

Photo: UNDP / Democratic Republic of the Congo
Photo: UNDP / Democratic Republic of the Congo

Supporting credible and inclusive elections: a cornerstone of democracy

Elections are a transformative tool for democratic governance. They are the means through which people voice their preferences and choose their representatives.

Each vote is part of a larger process that stretches before, during and after an election: the Electoral Cycle. Yet many countries lack a national system for managing elections.

UNDP offers strategic assistance throughout the Electoral Cycle, from support in designing more effective systems, to mechanisms to address disputes after the votes are counted. Ultimately, UNDP assistance aims to ensure that elections are credible and fully owned nationally; increase awareness of the role of elections as part of a broader democratic governance framework and as a vital means to safeguard human rights, exercise choice and express opinions.

To advance these goals, UNDP helps countries around the world acquire the necessary skills to organize elections that enjoy the confidence of electoral stakeholders. In 2013, for example, UNDP provided electoral assistance to 68 countries in Africa, the Arab States, Asia Pacific, Latina America and the Caribbean and Europe and the CIS region.

UNDP promotes credible and inclusive elections at all levels by supporting national efforts for:

  • Promoting legal reform.
  • Establishing independent and permanent electoral management bodies.
  • Implementing systems for planning, monitoring and budgeting.
  • Supporting voter and civic education on democratic rights and responsibilities.
  • Coordinating electoral assistance.
  • Promoting women's participation in elections as voters and candidates.
  • Encouraging political participation of vulnerable and marginalized groups such as youth, women, persons with disabilities and minorities.
  • Preventing electoral conflict and violence.

By allowing the genuine participation of all citizens, elections are also crucial in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Elections, however, are only one aspect of democratic governance, and must be accompanied by strong and diverse institutions that provide equal protection to all people, fair distribution of resources and access to political power.

People are less likely to resort to violence to resolve their differences or to make their voice heard if they can participate in credible and inclusive elections. Yet elections can also accelerate conflict in high-stakes contexts of social tension or recent civil war. This is why UNDP's electoral assistance programming pays careful attention to the timing and conduct of elections, with a long-term view towards strengthening inclusive democratic institutions and contributing to conflict prevention in elections.

UNDP also engages with political parties, recognizing their role in structuring political participation, transforming social interests into progressive public policy, and training future political leaders.

This work is often carried out in collaboration with the Electoral Assistance Division of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs and other UN agencies.