Section 3: Key Election Process Categories Electoral Complaints, Disputes and Resolution
What are electoral complaints, disputes and resolutions?
Democratic election processes include systems for the resolution of complaints for each element of the process. These electoral complaint mechanisms allow voters, candidates and political parties to formally voice their concerns and receive proper redress for those grievances. For example, there should be systems in place to handle complaints regarding ballot qualification, voter registration, political party registration and vote tabulation (among others). The complaints procedure should provide due process, equal protection before the law and effective remedies for violations. Generally, the complaints procedure is built into the electoral legal framework. The process should be clear, accessible, free of unnecessary obstacles (such as discrimination or undue restrictions on standing for election or voting), and be timely in the handling of disputes, issuing of decisions and implementing remedies. In order for the process to be fair, the administrative or judicial body in charge of handling electoral complaints must be, and be seen to be, impartial, independent, and qualified. Some countries have special electoral tribunals, like Mexico’s, established in 1987. Others have a national ombudsman or similar office that reviews the complaints process and hears appeals of individual complaints, such as Kenya’s Commission on Administrative Justice, established in 2011, and Peru’s Defensoria del Pueblo, established in 1993.
Why do electoral complaints, disputes and resolutions matter?
An effective system for handling complaints reassures voters, candidates and political parties that their concerns are taken seriously. Systems for the resolution of electoral complaints make sure that voters, candidates and political parties all have the opportunity to voice complaints, receive timely determination about disputes and have the ability to appeal the decision. Systems for the resolution of electoral complaints also build public trust and confidence in the administrative or judicial body in charge of the complaints process as an impartial and independent organization. Complaint mechanisms foster transparency and accountability in the electoral process and political system, and promote democratic governance more broadly. With access to data about the complaints process, voters, candidates and political parties will be able to access the procedures, evaluate the integrity of the process and call for increased fairness, transparency and accountability. Political parties can make sure they receive equal treatment before the law. Election monitoring groups can evaluate the transparency and fairness of the complaints process to inform the public and to suggest improvements for future performance.
Example electoral complaints, disputes and resolutions data
Data includes information about the complaints procedures, including how to access the complaints process, the criteria for filing a complaint, and how to appeal resolutions/decisions (usually in electoral law). Data also includes the type of complaint or dispute, the number of complaints and challenges to electoral results, the parties lodging the matter, the remedy employed (if any) and the outcome of the action; the number of administrative investigations, actions and disposition of cases concerning malfeasance and significant misfeasance; and the number and types of penalties, fines and incarcerations that were imposed by administrative or judicial tribunals in electoral related cases. The data may also include the number of criminal investigations of electoral abuses, the electoral related prosecutions and the charges involved, the parties to the actions and the outcomes of the cases; the number of administrative and civil actions (cases) involving vendors and other contractors that concern electoral related procurements and other contracts, the names of the parties in the case, the nature of the claims and the outcomes of the cases (including penalties, if awarded). In some countries, the data includes specific information about electoral related violence such as the number of incidents of electoral related violence, the types and scales of such incidents, and which law enforcement and/or public security body responded.
The Brazilian Superior Electoral Court (TSE) makes all of their complaint resolutions and judgments available online. Individuals can search and filter the text of the resolutions by category type (e.g., cancellation of parties, changing of boundaries) or by date. In the 2014 election, the Election Commission of India (ECI) website allowed citizens to lodge complaints through the “Citizen Services” section of the site (as well as provided access to the voter registry, polling station locations, and historical election results). In addition, it posted a list of election offenses and legal judgments. Mexico’s Special Prosecutor for Attention to Electoral Crimes (FEPADE) receives public input concerning electoral violations and provides information to the public on what constitutes such crimes and how to report incidents on its website.