Electoral processes can be improved with the new Quality Management guidance

By Joselyn Biira Mwine

An election is often the single largest activity that is ever organized in a country. It is a very complex administrative task, which is implemented in a politically charged atmosphere. When it is done well, it may attract little comment. When it is not done well, or when it is undermined, the effects can be catastrophic. The credibility and legitimacy of electoral processes is inextricably linked to electoral integrity. The challenge of organising elections is a global one. It is also one that citizens take for granted until things go wrong.

Sustaining the process of democratization is more challenging in a developing country like Uganda, which faces pervasive poverty and social tensions between the powerful and powerless. Uganda’s present-day democracy is a representative democracy, in which people elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf. The electoral management system itself is under pressure, if not direct attack, and in need of immunity and insulation. Competitive elections, in addition to being expensive and wasteful, are increasingly being manipulated by political parties, propaganda machines and clever demagoguery; they need healthy, constructive debates on public policy. Election managers thus continuously face formidable challenges to keep the electoral system functional and provide a level playing field for everyone, and struggle to retain their autonomy and integrity. The larger issue is making democratic systems and processes work for all four principles: popular control, political equality, constitutional governance and individual freedom.

The technical specification ISO/TS 54001, Quality management systems – Particular requirements for the application of ISO 9001:2015 for electoral organizations at all levels of government is relevant in this context.

If meticulously followed and intelligently implemented, its guiding principles can keep the electoral oversight and regulatory agency in strategic fitness and failsafe condition against undue pressure and motivated interference. This document is applicable to the election period, including pre-election and post-election activities or processes. It covers all aspects of a successful election such as registration of candidates and voters, vote casting and counting, declaration of results and resolution of electoral disputes. Equally, it provides useful information to all who have an interest or stake in electoral administration—whether in government, political parties, the media or civil society organizations, or as interested observers of political and electoral matters.

This standard focuses on how an electoral management body can protect its autonomy, exercise management control, safeguard integrity, maintain transparency, ensure efficacy, and professionally implement rules and procedures while keeping the system voter friendly. From registering eligible voters to counting votes and declaring results, the pathways of election managers are full of risks that require competencies and high-order skills.

Electoral frameworks, including the choice of electoral system and the design of electoral administration, determine both the outcomes and the credibility of electoral processes and thereby trust in democracy. The development of professional electoral administration is not merely a technical and managerial issue, but a process that crucially engages political stakeholders who have their own interests and objectives. Its role in the overall development and strengthening of democracy cannot be overstated.

The potential benefits of implementing such a quality management system based on this are:

  • the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet stakeholders’ and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements;
  • facilitating opportunities to enhance voter satisfaction;
  • Addressing risks and opportunities associated with its context and objectives;
  • The ability to demonstrate conformity to specified quality management system requirements.

This technical document specifies requirements for a quality management system where an electoral organization needs to demonstrate its ability to manage elections by secret ballot, to provide reliable, transparent, and free and fair results that comply with electoral requirements;  within the established legal framework, aims to enhance the trust and confidence of citizens, candidates, political organizations and other electoral interested parties through the effective implementation of the electoral quality management system, including processes for continual improvement.

The standard is intended to be a resource to guide those who are responding to election management challenges to build professional, competent and fully independent electoral bodies. It seeks to bring together the knowledge and expertise that has been gathered worldwide about electoral management bodies’ roles and functions, and the organization, financing and management of election administration. It recognizes that different models may be appropriate in different contexts, and does not in general seek to be normative or prescriptive beyond the basic characteristics sought in good electoral processes: freedom, fairness, and equity, integrity, voting secrecy, transparency, effectiveness, sustainability, service mindedness, efficiency, impartiality and accountability.

Electoral administration must develop through greater professionalism, while responding to greater challenges. In addition to their tasks related to implementing election laws and managing electoral technicalities, some electoral bodies have assumed responsibilities in highly political areas, for example the oversight of political finance, the registration and oversight of political parties, the role and activities of the media during elections, and the promotion of political participation. In addition, the ingenuity of those who wish to undermine the integrity of elections means that electoral administrators can never rest on their laurels: protecting electoral integrity can require a continual leapfrog process for the electoral managers to keep ahead.

Of course, every electoral body has its own legal framework based on national and international law, so this guidance is not intended to replace it. However, by outlining international best practice when it comes to the quality management of an election and an electoral organization, it enables them to improve their processes to strengthen citizen confidence, reduce risks and continually improve.

The writer is the Public Relations Officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards