The Limits of Election Monitoring: What Independent Observation Can (and Can’t) Do. With Susan Hyde. Foreign Affairs, June 29, 2011

Summary: When Tunisia and Egypt hold elections this fall, international election monitors will face pressure to validate the results as a proof that the Arab Spring is yielding democratic dividends. They must resist that pressure — both to maintain their independence and convince Egyptians and Tunisians of it.


Kelley, Judith. “Do International Election Monitors Increase or Decrease Opposition Boycotts?” Comparative Political Studies.

International election boycotts are over twice as common when international observers are present. Do international observers increase election boycotts as this correlation and past research suggest? This article argues not. Observers tend to go to elections with many problems and it is primarily these, rather than monitors, that drive boycotts.  Furthermore, opposition parties have reason to hope that observers can improve the quality of the election or that they will increase attention to election fraud, and therefore opposition parties may actually abandon boycott plans. Whether they do, however, depends on their expectations about how the observers will behave. This makes it important to account for the varying reputation of observer organizations. Thus, using matching to address the selection problem, this article shows that international observers can actually deter boycotts, but only if the observers are reputable.


Kelley, Judith. “Election Observers and Their Biases.”  Journal of Democracy (July, 2010): 158-172.

International election monitors strive to uphold international norms, but their assessments are not always as depoliticized as envisioned. This criticism is not new, but it has hitherto always been anecdotal. Through analysis of case studies and a global dataset, this article systematically identifies some of the predispositions of international election monitors and opens a debate about their implications.


Kelley, Judith. “D-Minus Elections: The Politics and Norms of International Election Observation.”  International Organization (2009), 63: 765-787

As international election monitors have grown active worldwide, their announcements have gained influence. Sometimes, however, they endorse highly flawed elections. Because their leverage rests largely on their credibility, this is puzzling. Understanding the behavior of election monitors is important because their assessments help the international community to assess the legitimacy of governments and because their assessments often inform the data used by scholars to study democracy. International election monitoring is also interesting because it is one of a few fields shared by both intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and because the core mandate of election monitors essentially is to police norms. This study uses a new dataset of 591 international election monitoring missions from a mix of organizations to examine the role of organizational interests and norms in explaining monitors’ assessments of elections. It finds that monitors do consider the elections’ quality, but they also consider the interests of their member states or donors as well as other compelling organizational norms. Thus, even when accounting for the nature and level of irregularities in an election, monitors’ concerns about democracy promotion, violent instability, and organizational politics and preferences are associated with election endorsement. The study also reveals differences in the behavior of various intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations and explains why neither can pursue their core objectives single-mindedly.


Kelley, Judith. “Assessing the Complex Evolution of Norms: the Rise of International Election Monitoring.” International Organization, (2008), 62: 221-255

Abstract: Given that states have long considered elections a purely domestic matter, the dramatic growth of international election monitoring in the 1990s was remarkable. Why did states allow international organizations and NGOs to interfere and why did international election monitoring spread so quickly? Why did election monitoring become institutionalized in so many organizations? Perhaps most puzzling, why do countries invite monitors and nevertheless cheat? This article develops a rigorous method for investigating the causal mechanisms underlying the rise of election monitoring, and “norm cascades” more generally. The evolution and spread of norms, like many other social processes, are complex combinations of normative, instrumental, and other constraints and causes of action. The rise of election monitoring has been driven by an interaction of instrumentalism, emergent norms, and fundamental power shifts in the international system. By dissecting this larger theoretical complexity into specific sub-claims that can be empirically investigated, this article examines the role of each of these causal factors, their mutual tensions, and their interactive contributions to the evolution of election monitoring.


Kelley, Judith. “The More the Merrier? The Effect of Having Multiple Election Monitoring Organizations.” Symposium in Perspectives on Politics, volume 20

: As the pressure to invite international election monitors rose at the end of the Cold War, states refused to grant the United Nations a dominant role. Thus, today multiple intergovernmental, regional and international non-governmental organizations often monitor the same elections with equal authority. This article examines the costs and benefits of this complex regime to highlight some possible broader implications of regime complexity. It argues that the availability of many different organizations facilitates action that might otherwise have been blocked for political reasons. Furthermore, when different international election monitoring agencies agree, their consensus can bolster their individual legitimacy as well as the legitimacy of the international norms they stress, and thus magnify their influence on domestic politics. Unfortunately the election monitoring example also suggests that complex regimes can engender damaging inter-organizational politics and that the different biases, capabilities, and standards of organizations sometime can lead organizations to outright contradict each other or work at cross purposes.

Kelley, Judith. “The Supply and Demand for International Election Monitoring.” Working Paper

Abstract: Although countries can simply refuse them access, international election monitors have become highly popular. This begs the questions: What countries invite monitors and how do organizations decide which elections to monitor? As this article demonstrates, however, because monitor organizations vary in quality it just as important to ask: who goes where? The answer reveals important patterns of democracy promotion activities and is essential for studying any effects of monitors. The article argues that in its most basic form election monitoring is like a market where supply is driven by a desire of monitoring agencies to provide information and improve election quality. Rather than shunning this external “meddling,” governments demand monitoring to obtain domestic and international legitimacy. Data provides strong support for this model, but they also show that this potentially powerful trade is weakened by the rise of a shadow market in which less critical monitors are willing to offer pseudo legitimacy to shield against other criticisms. The resulting equilibrium is therefore a phenomenon of broader than expected “selection from the middle” of the democracy range, but with a mix of organizations often disagreeing.

Kelley, Judith and Kolev, Kiril. “Election Quality and International Observation 1975-2004: Two New Datasets” (October 19, 2010).

Abstract: This paper introduces two new datasets on national level elections from 1975 to 2004. The data are grouped into two separate datasets, the Quality of Elections Data and the Data on International Election Monitoring. Together these data sets provide original information on elections, election observation and election quality, and will enable researchers to study a variety of research questions. The datasets will be publicly available and are maintained at a project website.

Kelley, Judith and Dan Kselman. “The Strategic Consequences of Election Monitoring” Working Paper

Paper presented at the 2007 Annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, August 30 – September 2.  


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