Election security

Fact Checkers Unite to Set the Record Straight: The Redcheq Alliance and Information Integrity in Colombia’s Regional Elections, 2019

Author
Alexis Bernigaud
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

During Colombia’s 2016 peace agreement referendum and its 2018 election, misinformation and disinformation circulated widely. As the country’s 2019 elections approached, Dora Montero, president of Consejo de Redacción (Editorial Board)—an association that promoted investigative journalism and operated an online fact-checking program called ColombiaCheck—realized it was especially difficult to correct factual errors at the regional and local levels, and she was determined to do something about that problem. Montero and her group assembled a network of journalists who detected and countered false claims during the 2018 campaign. Montero’s team organized workshops on fact checking for local journalists; forged alliances with local and national radio, TV, and print media; and collaborated with universities and civic leaders to produce and distribute articles that presented the facts. During the 2019 campaign, the alliance, named RedCheq, produced 141 articles that clarified and corrected political statements, social media posts, photos, and videos. This case focuses on the challenges associated with improving the integrity of election-related information at the subnational level. This case is part of a series on combatting false information, including both misinformation (unintentional), disinformation (intentional), and fake news, one form of disinformation

Alexis Bernigaud drafted this case study based on interviews conducted with journalists and civic leaders in Colombia from January through May 2023. Case published July 2023.

Colombia’s National Civil Registry Launches an Antidisinformation Initiative, 2018−2019

Author
Alexis Berniguad
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Translations
Abstract

When a wave of online misinformation jeopardized the integrity of primary elections in Colombia, Juan Carlos Galindo, who headed the country’s National Civil Registry, decided it was time to address this emerging threat to democracy. The registry, which worked with the National Electoral Council, would soon conduct the first local elections since the country’s 2016 peace agreements, and Galindo wanted to ensure that voters had correct information about the process, including the locations and open hours of polling stations. He asked his team to find appropriate ways to respond to misinformation, mindful of low public trust, frequent strategic use of disinformation by political parties, and limited resources to target voters at the local level. Building on the experience of the registry’s Mexican counterpart, head of international partnerships Arianna Espinosa led the design and implementation of a plan to deal with the problem. The team struck deals with social media platforms, independent fact checkers, and political parties to take part in the fight against false information and used an artificial-intelligence-powered platform to detect and respond to false news about the election process during the campaign. By election day, the team had refuted a total of 21 misleading claims and published 59 verified news items and videos on social media, but the limited reach of the publications and minimal engagement with some of the key stakeholders prevented the registry from having the impact it aimed for. After the election, the new head of the registry refocused on building more-transparent processes and providing accessible information for citizens about elections while curtailing some of the initiatives Espinosa had introduced. This case is part of a series on combatting false information, including both misinformation (unintentional), disinformation (intentional), and fake news, one form of disinformation.

Alexis Bernigaud drafted this case study based on interviews conducted with officials, journalists, and civic leaders in Colombia and Spain from January through May 2023. Case published July 2023.

Defending the Vote: France Acts to Combat Foreign Disinformation, 2021 – 2022

Author
Alexis Bernigaud
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

After a hack-and-leak operation that targeted a candidate in its 2017 presidential election and a social media campaign against its exports in 2020, France’s government decided to take steps to protect its politics from foreign digital interference. With another national election approaching in April 2022, Lieutenant Colonel Marc-Antoine Brillant began designing a new unit that aimed to detect foreign information manipulation while preserving freedom of speech by separating responsibility for identification of attacks from responsibility for framing and executing a response. After the proposal cleared legal hurdles, Brillant’s team, under the authority of the Secretariat-General for National Defense and Security, set up an interagency governance system, initiated a dialogue with social media platforms, and monitored social media to detect hostile campaigns. During the 2022 campaign, the unit, called Viginum, identified five foreign interference attempts and referred them to other parts of government that could decide whether and how to react. The elections ran smoothly, and the Viginum team started to focus on building stronger public understanding of its mission and activities.  

Alexis Bernigaud drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in France from August through November 2022. Case published January 2023.

Sweden Defends its Elections Against Disinformation, 2016 – 2018

Author
Gordon LaForge
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

The Russian state information influence attack against the 2016 US presidential election rattled authorities in Sweden. The Scandinavian country of 10 million was already a frequent target of Kremlin-sponsored disinformation. With a general election approaching in September 2018 and public apprehension about a possible influence attack high, officials at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency began preparing measures to defend the credibility of the country’s electoral process. Rather than attempt to halt the creation and spread of disinformation, the agency aimed to build the resilience of institutions and society overall to withstand information influence activities. The agency trained thousands of civil servants, built and strengthened interagency coordination structures, coordinated with traditional and social media, raised public awareness, and monitored the digital information landscape. Despite a cyberattack on the Swedish Election Authority website that fanned claims of fraud and generated a flood of homegrown political disinformation, the election ran smoothly and the government doubled down on the resilience-building approach for protecting the 2022 election.

Gordon LaForge drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in October and November 2020. Case published December 2020. The Princeton University Liechtenstein Institute for Self-Determination supported the development of this case study.

 

 

Defending the Vote: Estonia Creates a Network to Combat Disinformation, 2016–2020

Author
Tyler McBrien
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

Troubled by reports of disinformation and fake news in the United States and with regard to the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum vote, Estonia’s State Electoral Office in 2016 created an interagency task force to combat the influence of false messaging on its democratic process. To guide its work, the small staff of the State Electoral Office adopted a network approach by engaging partners from other government agencies, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, social media companies, and the press to identify and monitor disinformation and to work with the press to correct false statements. It also developed a curriculum that would help high school students improve their ability to separate fact from fiction. The collaboration largely succeeded in checking foreign interference. However, considerations involving free speech and censorship hobbled the task force’s efforts to restrain disinformation spread by domestic political parties and their supporters. This case illuminates how an electoral management body with limited staff capacity and a restricted mandate addressed a societywide disinformation challenge.

 

Tyler McBrien drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in September and October 2020. Case published December 2020.

Preparing to Draft a New Social Contract: Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly Election, 2011

Author
Daniel Tavana
Focus Area(s)
Country of Reform
Abstract

Tunisia’s Independent High Authority for Elections faced a formidable task in May 2011. The newly created commission had five months to organize and implement elections for a National Constituent Assembly that would rewrite the Tunisian constitution. Commissioners moved quickly to build capacity and restore public faith in elections. The commission navigated the pressures of a compressed electoral calendar, an agitated electorate, and skepticism of the transitional government. The story of the group’s efforts to manage a successful election offers insight into how an electoral commission can take advantage of relationships with political parties, government, and the public to overcome inexperience in volatile circumstances. This case study focuses on commission staffing and recruitment, the creation of regional subsidiary bodies, and voter registration.

Ransford Gyampo

Ref Batch
P
Focus Area(s)
Ref Batch Number
2
Country of Reform
Interviewers
Lucas Issacharoff and Daniel Scher
Name
Ransford Gyampo
Interviewee's Position
Professor of Political Science
Interviewee's Organization
University of Ghana
Language
English
Nationality of Interviewee
Ghanaian
Place (Building/Street)
University of Ghana
Town/City
Accra
Country
Date of Interview
Reform Profile
No
Abstract

Ransford Gyampo discusses his research on election politics in Ghana.  The interview focuses on the changes to the campaign environment following a 2008 agreement on a code of conduct.  Van Gyampo mentions the impact of two independent institutions on the forging of a campaign agreement.  He also talks about how the enforcement of the agreement was popularly demanded and carried out after the agreement was widely distributed.  He also discusses the relevance of a strong civil service to election reform.     

Case Study:  Keeping the Peace in a Tense Election: Ghana, 2008

Profile

At the time of this interview, Ransford Gyampo was a professor of political science at the University of Ghana. He conducted extensive research into recent political trends in Ghana and especially into the 2008 election.  He also was an assistant professor at the Governance Center of the Institute of Economic Affairs in Ghana.  He earned a master’s degree in political science and specialized in human rights and government. 

Full Audio File Size
98MB
Full Audio Title
Ransford Van Gyampo Interview

A Path to Peace: Liberia's First Post-War Elections, 2004-2005

Author
Michael Scharff
Country of Reform
Abstract
In 2005, Liberia held its first post-conflict elections, two years after a peace agreement ended 14 years of civil war. Navigating treacherous political waters and facing both time constraints and citizen skepticism, Frances Johnson-Morris, chairwoman of the newly installed National Elections Commission, oversaw a largely peaceful electoral process that ushered in a new legislature and president. A former Supreme Court chief justice, she knew that failure to hold credible elections could plunge the peace process into disarray and send the country back into conflict. To dampen the risk of violence, Johnson-Morris prioritized building citizens’ trust in the commission and took steps to ensure the elections were as inclusive as possible. She established a vetting process to hire qualified staff for the commission and conducted a thorough update of the voter registry that ensured people who lacked standard identification papers could still sign up to vote. Johnson-Morris also oversaw the design of a consultation committee that put political party representatives and elections commission staff in one room, where they could share important messages and formulate unified policy. Ordinary Liberians and independent observers expressed satisfaction with the free, fair and peaceful conduct of the elections.  
 
Michael Scharff drafted this case study on the basis of interviews conducted in Monrovia, Liberia, in July 2011 and using interviews conducted by Nealin Parker in August 2008. Case published October 2011.
 
Associated Interview(s):  Thomas Du, Senesee Geso Freeman

Thomas Du

Ref Batch
D
Focus Area(s)
Ref Batch Number
1
Country of Reform
Interviewers
Nealin Parker
Name
Thomas Du
Interviewee's Position
Senior Program Officer
Interviewee's Organization
National Democratic Institute, Liberia
Language
English
Nationality of Interviewee
Liberian
Town/City
Monrovia
Country
Date of Interview
Reform Profile
No
Abstract
Thomas Du, senior program officer at the National Democratic Institute in Liberia, explains his organization’s charge to facilitate the country’s transition to democracy by working closely with civil society and by engaging constructively with the government. Du recounts the history of party politics in Liberia, highlighting the racial divisions between dark-skinned natives and lighter-skinned repatriated American settlers, long periods of military rule and rigged elections. Parties proliferated as vehicles for individuals to attain power rather than on ideological grounds while significant portions of the population like youth, illiterates, and unskilled workers were neglected. Du explains the National Election Commission’s choice to be inclusive rather than strict in enforcing all electoral rules that would bar some people and parties from the process. He discusses the weak role of the media in the country and the difficulty of getting appropriate materials to illiterate voters. He touches on some different motivations that may have affected voters’ choices in the 2005 election as they determined what kind of leader they wanted to steer them through the democratic transition safely. Du emphasizes the importance of opening up the process by allowing multiple parties and media sources access to the political arena, while avoiding crowding the field with too many parties or news sources. He endorses developing and implementing rules for interparty competition, defining the roles of different stakeholders, and finding a way for parties to effectively disseminate their ideas to voters. Du analyzes election monitoring in the 2005 election and champions domestic monitoring of elections throughout the full election cycle to establish ownership of the process.  Looking toward future elections, he calls for the involvement of youth and women in civic culture and the cultivation of future leaders.
 
Profile
At the time of this interview, Thomas Du was the senior program officer at the National Democratic Institute in Liberia. His work at the institute supported the development of civil service infrastructure to assist in building democratic institutions in Liberia. He also studied the successes and failures of these techniques as a means of improvement.
Full Audio File Size
81 MB
Full Audio Title
Thomas Du - Full Interview

Policing Election Day: Vulnerability Mapping in India, 2006-2009

Author
Michael Scharff
Country of Reform
Abstract
During India’s 2009 election, there were not enough uniformed personnel to guard every one of the country’s 828,000 polling places or to keep the peace during the campaign period. The Election Commission of India introduced “vulnerability mapping” to help election officials decide where to deploy the police and paramilitary personnel ahead of polling day. The state of West Bengal piloted the new tactic. Intense political competition and a Maoist insurgency in some parts of the state meant West Bengal was more susceptible to trouble than many other places in the country. Using general guidelines drawn up by the commission, the head election official for West Bengal, Debashis Sen, classified polling stations by their level of sensitivity. These rankings helped election officials decide where to position the police and paramilitary. The commission also instructed the police to execute existing arrest warrants and to keep close tabs on likely offenders. Election officials in West Bengal said the mapping helped dampen violence and increase voter turnout on election day.
 

Michael Scharff drafted this case study on the basis of interviews conducted in New Delhi and Kolkata, India, in November 2010. Case published August 2011.

Associated Interview(s):  S.K. Mendiratta, Alok Shukla