'Electoral Integrity - Why It Matters' with Prof Pippa Norris
Thursday 10th April 2014
Professor Pippa Norris from the Harvard Kennedy School and the University of Sydney gave an inspired and interactive talk on the afternoon of Thursday 10 April. She began by giving many examples of the lack of electoral integrity, not just in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Thailand, but also in the US, Canada, the UK, and of course Western Australia. “When elections fail,” she said, “there are consequences for confidence in government, for behaviour such as voter turnout, and for conflict.”
Professor Norris’s work at the University of Sydney focuses on the Electoral Integrity Project, a multi-million dollar research project supported by the Australian Research Council. The project has developed the concept of integrity across the electoral cycle, not just on polling day, beginning with the structure of electoral districts and continuing through the aftermath of the election. A large data set on perceptions of electoral integrity has been created, drawing on more than 8,000 experts around the world. This data allows countries to be ranked according to their degree of integrity (the usual suspects come last, and Australia rates very well).
Professor Norris challenged the audience to explain why elections fail – it is essential to understand the reasons for failure if any improvements are going to be made. Suggestions included apathy, fear, lack of engagement, inequality, culture, and information asymmetries. Professor Norris separated these and other possibilities into fixed and enduring structural conditions versus constitutional, regulatory, and legal design. The former are difficult to change, and in some situations it may be better to hold no election at all rather than an election that is bound to fail. The latter are easier to change, and a focus on those areas offers hope for improving and maintaining electoral integrity.
The event was sponsored jointly by the Harvard Club of Victoria and the Australia New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), and was held at the Victorian Department of Health, which generously offered use of their meeting room.