ELB Book Corner: Routledge Handbook of Election Law: Voters around the world are increasingly often challenging election results

I am pleased to welcome to ELB Book Corner some of the authors of the Routledge Handbook of Election Law. Here is the first of three posts, by Jurij Toplak:

ELB Book Corner

Jurij Toplak

David Schultz and I have edited what is probably the most thorough review in print of election law around the world. The Routledge Handbook of Election Law features 32 authors from six continents. It covers international election law standards, issues, and trends in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America. We launched the book in August 2022 with an event at Oxford University.

Court rulings on elections strengthen trust in democracy

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decided the result of the Bush vs. Gore presidential election in 2000, the resolution of electoral disputes worldwide has moved from the political arena and from protests to the courtroom. Increasingly often, voters around the world are challenging election results. Austria, Kenya, Switzerland, Iceland, Malawi, and Slovenia are just some of the countries where the courts have recently invalidated elections or referendums.

The courts’ involvement benefits democracy. It can remove voters’ doubts, remedy violations, and increase trust. When necessary, as Ugo Ezeh writes in his chapter on election law in Africa, it can invalidate flawed elections and defend the integrity of the electoral process. Showing all participants that violations will not be tolerated benefits future elections.

In her chapter, Pippa Norris ranks countries according to the integrity of their elections over the years. Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Germany, and Sweden rank highest, while the UK is the second lowest in Western Europe, ahead only of Malta. The U.S. is ranked lower than most democracies.

The Perception of Electoral Integrity Index measures experts’ perception of electoral rules and processes. It measures how thousands of experts and scholars view and evaluate many elements of the electoral process.

I believe that the UK and U.S. are ranked low in these perception rankings because British and American scholars and media are highly critical of their countries’ electoral systems, and that criticism decisively affects everyone’s perception of British and American elections. Conversely, Scandinavian scholars are protective of their laws and elections. In my opinion, these rankings do not do justice to the UK and U.S.

Election law is a growing field

In the U.S., universities began to teach Election Law as a subject in the 1990s, starting with Daniel Lowenstein. But in most countries, election lawyers have started to emerge only recently. In some European, Asian, and Latin American countries, there are individual legal scholars and lawyers, or small groups of them, who specialize in election law, and there are universities that offer courses in election law. In other countries, lawyers are not interested in election law.

Election lawyers appear particularly in countries that hold frequent referendums or have histories of disputed elections, such as Italy, Switzerland, and France. With an increasing number of elections being referred to the courts, I expect election lawyers to grow in number.

Election practitioners Hannah Roberts and Alex Shlyk contributed chapters on international election principles and electoral observation. Around 30 European election lawyers work for international organizations such as OSCE, ODIHR, EU, and the UN. Most of them work as consultants, international election observers, and advisors to governments worldwide. Many work freelance to assist candidates, parties, election bodies, or international organizations, often spending a month or two in one country before moving to the next.

Most of the book’s 27 chapters comparatively analyze topics such as campaign finance, electoral management, electronic voting, gender in election law, and voting by people with disabilities. My chapter reviews the European Court of Human Rights’ case law on elections. Klemen Jaklič’s chapter discusses European democracies’ efforts to achieve greater personalization of elections; to make them more about individuals and less about political parties.

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