Election Observation

Election observation is one of the core instruments for promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. It consists of the observation of an election by a group of independent international and/or local election observers so as to critically assess the electoral process on the basis of national legislation and international standards.


Election observation missions have existed in their current form since the end of the Cold War. These missions make an important contribution to crisis prevention: They can demonstrate international interest, strengthen public confidence in the electoral process, and expose potential irregularities. Election observation can thereby foster transparency and acceptance among all parties concerned and contribute to political stabilization, especially in transition and post-conflict countries.


In a recently produced video, OSCE ODIHR explains how an election observation mission works -  and the EU, too, gives an introduction to its election monitoring.

ZIF’s Contribution to Election Observation and Monitoring

Selection, Training, and Support of Election Observers

Since 2002, ZIF has been the focal point for German election observers interested in working with the European Union (EU) or the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). ZIF is responsible for their selection, training, and support. Only German members of the ZIF expert roster are eligible for nomination as short-term or long-term election observers with these international organizations.


Since it was founded, ZIF in cooperation with the Federal Foreign Office, has sent over 3000 volunteer short-term (STO) and long-term (LTO) observers on OSCE/ODIHR or EU election observation missions.


Click here for an overview of all German election observers deployed by ZIF since 2002.

The election calendars managed by ODIHR and the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) both provide a forecast of upcoming elections and possible missions.

Training Courses and Partnerships

In addition, ZIF provides training courses for both short-term and long-term election observers. Courses are occasionally also conducted for partners, such as an LTO training course for Switzerland or STO and LTO training courses for Belarussian observers on behalf of the OSCE. Through partnership projects, ZIF also supports regional organizations such as ECOWAS in training election observers in Africa.


April 2014: ZIF celebrates first Election Observation Day

On April 4, 2014, ZIF invited German election observers, election experts, researcher and representatives from ministries and parliament to the first ZIF Election Observation Day. Panel discussions, workshops, an award ceremony - this day offered a manifold program and various inputs and opportunities to discuss this political instrument, its impact and its methodology. At the end of the day, all guests enjoyed a jolly "election party". Find picture proof and read more about this premiere here (German only).


Election Observation and Monitoring in Brief

Who monitors elections?


The most important international election observation missions are undertaken by regional organizations such as the EU, the OSCE, or the Organization of American States (OAS).


In 1991, the OSCE founded the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Since then, the ODIHR has conducted over 200 missions in OSCE member states. The EU has been deploying election observers to countries beyond the OSCE-region since 2000. To date, over 70 EU missions have been carried out in many African states, in Latin America, and in Asia. The United Nations (UN) increasingly focuses its efforts on technical electoral assistance. In addition, the Carter Center and other non-governmental organizations dispatch their own election observers.



How does election observation work?


The Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation, adopted by the UN in 2005, comprises an internationally recognized methodology for election observation to which all key international actors are signatories.


International election monitoring missions require a formal invitation by the host, i.e. target country. The parameters of the mission (e.g. observers’ unrestricted access to all parties and stages of the electoral process) are agreed on in a Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the international organization. In return, observers commit themselves to neutrality and objectivity.


A core team of experts and LTOs generally enters the country several weeks before the elections. While the LTOs establish contact with electoral authorities, parties, candidates, civil society, and other actors throughout the country, the core team evaluates the information gathered from these contacts at the country level.


Around election day, a larger number of STOs join the mission to observe polling station and vote counting procedures. Election observers collect information without intervening in events. All findings and assessments as well as suggestions for improvement are published in a final report.