The best election observers, according to one of WFD’s trained and recruited observers, “are the ones who believe in the work that they do”. We couldn’t agree more.
WFD aims to recruit observers who see elections as the basis for legitimate governments, and want to strengthen this process. Election observation rests on a respect for the democratic process, human rights and the rule of law.
That is certainly the view of Ben Jones, a Cabinet Office employee whose background in human rights and governance acted as a motivation for him to participate in our election training on the methodology used for EU election observation and democratic support.
The training and our regular recruitment for Election Observation Missions (EOM) demonstrate WFD’s commitment to ensuring the best quality people have the skills to become the next generation of election observers.
But what were the main skills taken from the training?
Sue Trinder, who has been a short-term observer ten times and a long-term observer twice, emphasised the importance of working as a united team.
On a long-term mission, when you can be working closely with your partner for over 30 days, she said teamwork is crucial to achieving your objectives and contributing effectively to the mission.
Her advice to potential observers is to use the opportunity to “think about what we can learn from each other, how we can work together and what synergies there are”.
Ben Jones agreed. “In addition to the technical aspects of the role of the LTO there was a heavy focus on the interpersonal aspects,” he said.
He highlighted the emotional as well as the technical sides to election observation. The success of a long-term election mission, Ben suggested, is dependent on “whether you can develop key relationships effectively”.
Participants on the training course had a wealth of experience amongst them already, but found it useful to have the opportunity to hone these skills through practical demonstrations – whilst learning from each other about their backgrounds and motivations for getting involved.
Joan Pearce, who has chosen to spend her retirement contributing to the process of free and fair elections, shared her experience monitoring elections in Macedonia.
Despite the demanding nature of the work, “it really gives you an opportunity to get to know a country and people in a way that you couldn’t possibly do just by visiting”, she said.
The value of election observation in the countries where it is needed is clear and the experience it provides observers is transformational, but it is important as Ben told me “to just remember why you are doing it”.
Joan recalled being struck by her surprise at just how different the electoral process is compared to in the UK, particularly with regards to what happens when things go wrong.
The “difference is how [discrepancies are] dealt with, if it is followed up properly and if proper remedies are found,” she said.
Sometimes these differences can be overwhelming; Sue recalled meeting observers who had completed their first mission and then decided they would prefer not to repeat the experience.
That’s why a real commitment to the democratic values WFD and other likeminded organisations like the EU and OSCE/ODIHR is essential.
Observers, Sue warned, “do have to have a certain amount of resilience” as well as “a curiosity and a willingness to experience things you wouldn’t normally”.
Doing so can be very rewarding. As Ben says, it’s “a privilege to be able to contribute something positive to the lives of people who are often a lot less well off than we are in the UK”.