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Electoral Insight – International Electoral Co-operation

Electoral Insight – March 2006

The ACE Project – A New Vision

Thérèse Pearce Laanela
ACE Project Coordinator, International IDEA, Stockholm

The ACE Project, which is a repository of information on election administration, was first released in 1998 to provide models and guidelines to develop election legislation and procedures. In 2004, the ACE partners decided to turn the ACE Project into the Electoral Knowledge Network. Its complexity and scope are greater than the initial project. The project now represents a new approach to electoral co-operation, including a significantly more interactive ACE Web site, the building of communities of practice, and a capacity development dimension. The ACE Web site, in English, French and Spanish, is available at

Back in the 1990s, democratization was a worldwide whirlwind, with elections as the main rallying point for newly democratic countries. Those involved often felt that they were starting from scratch as they wrote legislation, procedures and manuals. Electoral advisors would send away for manuals done in other countries, which had to be faxed through often unreliable telephone services. As frustration grew stronger among individuals and organizations heavily involved in designing and building electoral structures, the idea emerged to support those at the forefront of electoral work by categorizing and making readily available the existing knowledge about democratic elections.

The ACE Project Web site is located at

The core concept of the three founding partners (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs, and IFES) in 1997 was a common vision with decentralized implementation. Each organization took responsibility for particular tasks, taking advantage of its own funding sources, with their own rules and regulations. Thousands of pages of information on electoral processes covered 12 topic areas: legal framework, electoral systems, boundary delimitation, electoral management, voter and civic education, voter registration, voting operations, vote counting, parties and candidates, media relations, elections and technology, and election integrity. The Web site provided descriptions of election systems, alternative models for their implementation and thorough documentation on what to do to make the systems operational. The Internet and the CD-ROM were used as the major forms of distribution, complemented by a user's guide publication and print-friendly options. The ACE Web site is used around the world, with some 200,000 visitors per month. An evaluation conducted in 2003 indicated, among other things, that the project had tremendous value, and that the Internet could be used as a tool to promote interaction.

The ACE Electoral Knowledge Network is a joint effort of:

Elections Canada: a non-partisan organization responsible for the conduct of federal elections, by-elections and referendums. The organization's primary goal is to give all Canadian citizens the opportunity to participate in transparent and impartial elections and referendums.

Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA): a not-for-profit company based in Johannesburg, South Africa, promoting credible elections and democratic governance in Africa through research, capacity building, advocacy and other targeted interventions.

Federal Electoral Institute of Mexico (IFE): the public autonomous institution responsible for organizing and conducting federal elections in Mexico, ensuring the authenticity and effectiveness of the vote, strengthening the political parties regime, and contributing to the development of democratic life.

IFES: a non-partisan, non-profit organization that supports the building of democratic societies. IFES has developed and implemented comprehensive, collaborative democracy solutions in more than 100 countries.

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA): an intergovernmental organization that promotes sustainable democracy worldwide.

United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA): organizes UN conferences on global policy issues and serves as the Secretariat to the Economic and Social Council. UN-DESA carries out research and policy analysis on public administration, population, social development, sustainable development and environmental issues.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): is the United Nations' global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life.

A unique partnership approach

In 2004, the founding partners, along with Elections Canada, EISA, Mexico's IFE and UNDP, agreed to review the overall vision and service lines of ACE with a view to transforming the project into a more active force, and to seek the collaboration of associate members such as universities, and regional and national electoral organizations. In February 2005, the University of Calgary became an associate member. The project has now developed to include three service lines: knowledge services, practitioners' networking and capacity development.

Commitment to election administration as a profession

Underlying the design of the ACE Project and its materials is a fundamental belief that election administration is worth being seen as a profession in its own right. A profession presupposes a sound knowledge base. Therefore, the ACE Project is intended to:

  • provide easily accessible reference materials for professionals and policy-makers in the election administration field
  • increase knowledge and enhance learning about democratic electoral processes
  • provide alternative frameworks and guidance to election officials and policy-makers seeking to strengthen national electoral systems and processes
  • identify elements in electoral system design and administrative practice that are cost-effective
  • promote transparency, accountability, professionalism, sustainability and efficiency in the electoral process within the context of democratic development
  • encourage the use of good practice in electoral administration and management
  • highlight innovations in electoral administration in different countries

One of the challenges of the project is to produce materials of consistent quality that will be useful to the diverse cross-section of end users, including:

  • senior government and elected officials with responsibility for election-related policy matters
  • election officials at all levels who have functional responsibility for particular aspects of electoral management
  • individuals and organizations (including regional organizations and networks) that provide advisory assistance to election management bodies
  • international and domestic election observation groups
  • journalists and media institutes
  • research and policy institutes conducting analyses of electoral systems and processes
  • academics and students, particularly those in the fields of election administration, public administration and political science
  • multilateral and bilateral development assistance agencies that provide democratic electoral assistance
  • intergovernmental, parliamentary and non-governmental organizations that assist election management bodies
  • interested members of the public

Enhancing knowledge services

A menu bar shows the many topic areas available on the ACE Project Web site.

This service line focuses on upgrading and consolidating the knowledge base of the original ACE Project by introducing dynamic components and providing a set of interactive functions and specialized services for the ACE community of users. The upgrade of this component has two thrusts.

The first task is to expand, update and improve the ACE content, with the goal of producing a comprehensive and authoritative collection of highly readable, practical and informative documents covering management approaches, alternative methods, cost considerations and policy issues in electoral administration. Except for some specialist files, the content is intended to be understandable to a lay reader without prior training in law, management, politics or election administration. The ACE documents range from descriptive and conceptual to operational and procedural. The levels of discussion are hierarchical, moving from general summary information about an electoral function down into the intricacies of particular alternative processes or concepts, and then on to highly detailed, real examples of a process or conceptual construct.

Each of the 12 topic areas is currently being updated, and particular attention is given to some key themes:

  • the importance of building sustainability into the development of electoral procedures and of identifying measures that are effective at low cost
  • the interconnection between different functional aspects of election administration and the general linkage of elements within any properly functioning system of electoral democracy
  • the importance of evaluation exercises in making incremental improvements to the quality of election administration from one election to another
  • the process of continuous consultation and dialogue with stakeholder groups, such as relevant government agencies, political parties, the media and civil society groups, for the purpose of building and maintaining trust and confidence in the electoral process
  • concrete suggestions for networking, descriptions of lessons learned, research and other methods for promoting professionalism in election administration
  • access to samples of technical specifications and materials such as forms, checklists, laws and regulations, training guides, and reports, as well as journal articles, research, data and expertise in election administration

The second thrust, which is truly innovative in comparison with what the ACE Project currently offers, will introduce many more dynamic and interactive features to the site. The following interactive services will be available from a dynamic user menu that will accompany each text or file of the ACE Project:

  • Direct and systematic links with the EPIC Project Footnote 1 will provide updated comparative raw data on several countries, corresponding to ACE topic areas.
  • An Electoral Resources On-line feature will replace the sample materials function currently used on the site and provide access to a wider and more organized collection of electoral resources that is continuously updated.
  • A Focus On feature, produced three or four times yearly, will highlight timely, cross-cutting election-related issues. In addition to the three or four pages of text that are currently produced, there will be internal links to where the topic is being discussed within ACE, external links to relevant on-line resources, and a list of further reading or resources, as well as discussion possibilities.
  • Electoral Advice On-line, which will be closely aligned with the second service line of the project, practitioners' networking. This portal will be divided into three main sections, each providing users with a particular service:
    • first, a help desk function where users can pose questions to the members of the topic area communities of practice
    • second, an archive of questions from users, with answers from experts
    • third, an Electoral Forum, serving as a virtual meeting place where the electoral experts can debate
  • Elections Today, a clearing house for professional development information in electoral administration. It will list events such as seminars and conferences, and provide on-line tutorials, compilations of training materials, and listings and contact details of available courses, scholarships and job opportunities; Elections Today will also feature a newsletter about the activities of the network's practitioners.
  • Case Studies featuring particular and relevant experiences of electoral reform and innovation; the collection,which currently displays 133 case studies on the administration of elections and experiences in different countries, will be regularly updated.
  • An ACE Electoral Quiz interactive feature, allowing ACE users to test and expand their knowledge in the 12 topic areas of the Web site, to examine particular issues more deeply and to further improve their skills in the electoral field.

Towards a practitioners' network

This service line focuses on facilitating a more active and interactive approach to building the ACE Project as a "living" knowledge hub by actively promoting global networking and the establishment of a virtual network of practitioners in the field of elections around the 12 specialized ACE topic areas.

Unlike other fields, election administration has very little codified knowledge in the dimensions of practice: what works well, what works less well, which solutions are appropriate under which conditions, what are the more cost-effective ways of working, what are the elements of sound process management. Knowledge is developed largely through experience, without analysis, structure or input from other developed fields of study.

While networking opportunities do exist in the form of regional conferences, these meetings tend to focus only briefly on any given topic, are attended by only senior election officials and usually have no follow-up in terms of further development of the subject matter. There is no opportunity for those who are dealing with specific tasks, such as boundary delimitation or preparation for the vote count, to exchange concerns, learn from others or share their experiences.

For election practitioners, two primary kinds of peer support are of value. The first is support for people around the world who are grappling with similar issues – dealing with boundary disputes, developing voter registration software, or finding creative and constructive ways of liaising with political parties.

The first kind of practitioners' network, therefore, will be topic-based and, in time, should become a mechanism of mutual support and professional development, a source of expertise in the field, and a quality-control mechanism for the knowledge services section of the ACE Project.

The EPIC Project Web site is located at

The second type of support is for those who seek to network with colleagues who share a common or similar cultural, geographical, and historical background. Building on a model that has worked successfully for the EPIC Project, entities as diverse as regional organizations, professional associations of electoral administrators, electoral management bodies and non-government organizations that promote democracy will serve as hubs to deliver high-quality regionally tailored services to election practitioners. These organizations are also the most effective sources of data and research, country case studies, sample materials, up-to-date news, and other resources relating to how elections are run.

Southern Africa will be the first pilot in the new regional strategy of the ACE Project. As part of this strategy, EISA will help strengthen existing sub-regional networks in Southern Africa, in particular, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Electoral Commissioners Forum and the SADC Election Support Network. This will include support for electronic networking, as well as for organizing periodic face-to-face staff meetings among the institutions involved.

Ensuring capacity development

This service line focuses on introducing a capacity development component to the ACE Project. It will place particular emphasis on training, professional advisory services and peer partnerships, especially among electoral management bodies, to increase their capacity to administer free and fair elections, and to promote their professionalism.

Overall, the objective of this third component is to more forcefully take advantage of the wealth of knowledge and expertise both in the materials and the networks of the ACE Project, so that member organizations have a menu of capacity development services. The ACE partners agree that there is growing global demand for capacity development services to electoral management bodies, as well as a growing need to improve opportunities for the training and professional development of officials involved in election administration in developing countries and transition economies.

As this is a more exploratory, as well as potentially resource-intensive initiative, the intention is to begin with a pilot. With ACE partner EISA as the host and manager, capacity development services will be threefold: technical advisory services, training and the promotion of peer partnerships. The methodology and structure that prove successful in the pilot will form the basis for a model. The basic concept is to support the capacity of regional organizations to strengthen delivery of quality electoral services to their respective constituencies.


Footnote 1 The Election Process Information Collection (EPIC) Project ( publishes comparative and country-by-country data on how countries actually manage their elections, as opposed to the principles, options and how-to information provided by ACE. The EPIC Project is a joint endeavour between the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and IFES.


The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.