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Electoral Assistance

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Anonymous 8 July 2012

Electoral support is one of the main components of the EU democracy support portfolio, covering around EUR 100m annually for the last decade.

“Election assistance may be defined as the technical or material support given to the electoral process. It may imply professional help to establish a legal framework for the elections. It may take the form of a general input to the National Election Commission, for example providing voting material and equipment, or helping in the registration of political parties and the registration of voters. It may also imply support to NGOs and civil society in areas such as voter and civic education or training of local observers as well as support to the media through media monitoring and training of journalists...” (Commission Staff Working Paper: Implementation of the Communication on Election Assistance and Observation)

Assistance to electoral processes and electoral observation are complementary activities. While electoral assistance covers the technical or material support given to the electoral process, electoral observation is the political complement to electoral assistance. Election observation involves the assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of an electoral process and the presentation of recommendations. This provides an important basis for deciding on further assistance after elections. Technically speaking, they are different activities but essentially they should be considered and programmed in a complementary manner. 

Electoral support activities are funded by a wide range of instruments available to the EU, including the Geographical EDF, ENPI, DCI and IPA instruments. The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) funds Electoral Observation Missions, but also projects in support of local CSOs, domestic observation and civic education.

The electoral cycle

In 2006-2007, the European Commission, the UNDP and International IDEA developed a visual planning and training tool to help development agencies, electoral assistance providers and electoral officials in partner countries to understand the cyclical nature of the various challenges faced during electoral processes. This tool has become known as the electoral cycle.


The electoral cycle is based on an understanding of elections as continuous processes rather than as isolated events. At the most general level, the electoral cycle is divided into three main stages:

  • the pre-electoral;
  • the electoral, and;
  • the post-electoral periods. 

The electoral cycle has no fixed starting or ending points, which is also true for the three periods and for the segments within the cycle. Some segments, such as civic education and support to political parties, for example, cut across the whole cycle. The inspiration for the electoral cycle approach came from some lessons learned by both the EC and UNDP over the course of a number of years of implementing electoral assistance projects. Electoral assistance programmes/projects target one or more areas within the electoral cycle.

Electoral support today

The increasing number of elections and the broad range of on-going transitional processes worldwide have highlighted the relevance of EC electoral support activities. Future electoral assistance programming needs to adapt to this changing global environment. One particular area of attention is the integration of the electoral cycle in the broader transitional and democratic agenda of the country. It is essential that electoral support further widens its remit and targets all relevant national actors. Beyond the traditional institutional actors this includes, but is not limited to: parliaments (both national and sub-national), the political society, media, and civil society.

In this context, it is even more important to develop strong synergies between EC electoral assistance and its political component electoral observation. It is essential that EOM recommendations are systematically taken into consideration in the project design of electoral assistance/reform programmes.

In short, effective electoral assistance, as an essential component of the EU’s democracy support requires a deep integration in the broader democratic and transitional processes.

EC-UNDP Joint Task Force on Electoral Assistance


In 2007, the EC and UNDP decided to further strengthen their cooperation in electoral assistance through the establishment of the EC-UNDP Joint Task Force on Electoral Assistance (JTF).

The primary focus of the JTF is to provide identification, formulation and implementation support for joint EC-UNDP projects on electoral assistance whenever needed and requested by EU delegations and/or UNDP country offices. Lessons learned are consolidated and codified so that they can effectively feed into the implementation of new electoral assistance projects, the various joint EC-UNDP workshops, conferences, and online courses.

ACE Electoral Knowledge Network


The ACE Electoral Knowledge Network is your portal to the world of elections. The ACE network promotes credible, and transparent electoral processes with emphasis on sustainability, professionalism and trust in the electoral process. ACE offers a wide range of services related to electoral knowledge, assistance and capacity development. The network comprises of a global, thematic component (the ACE Practitioners' Network) and a regional component (the ACE Regional Electoral Resource Centres). It is a collaborative effort between nine organisations: IDEA, EISA, Elections Canada, the Federal Electoral Institute of Mexico (IFE), IFES, UNDESA, UNDP and the UNEAD. The European Commission is an ex-officio member.

The ACE website is an online knowledge repository that provides comprehensive information and customised advice on electoral processes. The website  contains  in-depth articlesglobal statistics and data, an Encyclopaedia of Elections, information on electoral assistance, observation and professional developmentregion- and country-specific resources, daily electoral news, an election calendarquizzesexpert networks and much, much more. The ACE website is freely accessible to all and the number of visitors is constantly growing.

Read More

EC Metholodogical Guidelines on Electoral Assistance, 2007

Commission Staff Working Paper: Implementation of the Communication on Election Assistance and Observation, 2003

EC Communication on election assistance and observation, 2001

Expected in 2012-2013:

Operational Guidelines on Performance Indicators for Electoral Assistance

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