Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Electoral reform projects seek to change the way that public desires are reflected in elections. Reform projects can include measures (typically changes to election laws) designed to reform political parties; to redefine citizen eligibility to vote; to change the way candidates or political parties gain ballot access; to alter the methods for defining electoral constituencies and election district borders; to design or implement new ballot systems or new voting equipment; to tighten scrutineering (by the parties or other observers); to ensure safety of citizens voting; to limit the influence of bribes, coercion, and conflicts of interest; to regulate financing to candidates; to encourage participation and to provide alternative vote-counting procedures altering the rules by which the winners of legislature and executive offices are determined, e.g., runoff voting, instant runoff voting, approval voting, citizen initiatives and referenda, recall elections, or proportional representation (see voting systems for more examples).
There are many such movements globally, in almost all democratic countries, as part of the basic definition of a democracy is the right to change the rules. Political science is imperfect. Electoral reforms seek to make politics work a bit better, a bit sooner. The solution to the problems of democracy tend to be "more democracy." Electoral Reform is a permanent feature of any democracy.
In less democratic countries, elections are of course demanded by dissidents; therefore the most basic electoral reform project is to achieve a transfer of power to a democratically elected government with a minimum of bloodshed, e.g. in South Africa in 1994. This case highlights the complexity of such reform. Such projects tend to require changes to national or other constitutions, and to alter balances of power. They are always by definition politically painful.
United Nations role
The United Nations Fair Elections Commission provides international observers to national elections that are likely to face challenge by the international community of nations, e.g. in 2001 in Yugoslavia, in 2002 in Zimbabwe, etc..
The United Nations standards address safety of citizens, coercion, scrutiny and eligibility to vote. They do not impose ballot styles, party diversity, or borders on electoral constituencies. Various global political movements, e.g. labor movements, the Green Party, political Islam, political Zionism , advocate various cultural, social, ecological means of setting borders that they consider "objective" or "blessed" in some other way. Contention over electoral constituency borders within or between nations and definitions of "refugee", "citizen", and "right of return" mark various global conflicts including Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, the Congo and Rwanda.
National electoral reform projects tend to be simpler and less focused on life-and-death matters. Australia and New Zealand held Royal Commissions to find the best form of "proportional representation" of parties in the legislature, and redesign ballots to select or elect these Members of Parliament.
Periodic redrawing of electoral constituency (or "riding" or "district") borders is conducted at regular intervals, or by statutory rules and definitions, if for no other reason than to eliminate malapportionment attributable to population movements. Some electoral reforms seek to fix these borders according to some cultural or ecological criteria, e.g. bioregional democracy which sets borders to fit exactly to ecoregions, to avoid the obvious abuse of "gerry-mandering" where these borders are set deliberately to favor one party or another, or just to improve management of the public's commonly-owned property.
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