A ‘free’ electoral process is one where fundamental human rights and freedoms are respected. These include:
Freedom of speech and expression by electors, parties, candidates and the media
Freedom of association; that is, freedom to form organizations such as political parties and political movements and NGOs
Freedom of assembly, to hold political rallies and to campaign
Freedom of access to and by electors to transmit and receive political and electoral messages
Freedom to register as an elector, a party or a candidate
Freedom from violence, intimidation or coercion
Freedom of access to the polls by electors, party agents and accredited observers
Freedom to exercise the franchise in secret and
Freedom to question, challenge and register complains or objections without negative repercussions.
A ‘fair’ electoral process is one where the ‘playing field’ is reasonably level and accessible to all electors, parties and candidates, and includes:
An independent, non-partisan electoral organization to administer the process
Guaranteed rights and protection through the constitution and electoral legislation and regulations
Equitable representation of electors provided through the legislation
Clearly defined universal suffrage and secrecy of the vote
Equitable and balanced reporting in the media, and equal access to public media
Equitable opportunity for the electorate to receive political and voter information
Equitable treatment of electors, candidates and parties by election officials, the government, police, military and the judiciary
Open and transparent ballot counting process, and
Election process not disrupted by violence, intimidation or coercion.
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6 Important Aspects that Characterize Free and Fair Elections
Democratic free and fair elections are important principles that characterize a credible Electoral System because in any democracy, elections are at the core.
In a free and fair election, every person who is of age and willing to vote has the right to register as a voter and vote. It also means that all registered political parties have equal rights to contest in an election. In addition, all votes cast are counted and the results demonstrate the will of the people. Below are 6 important aspects that depict free and fair elections:
The secrecy of the ballot means that during an election each vote cast remains anonymous and voters mark ballot papers in a private space without attempting to influence each other in terms of who a candidate votes for. This secrecy is critical in countering ill feelings because people do not get to know who voted for who.
Violence and corruption free
For elections to be seen as free and fair, they need to be free of violence, intimidation, improper influence or corruption. There need not be fighting or use of force with the intention of swaying voters to vote in a certain way. Those involved in the electoral process should also avoid any misconduct that would amount to corruption.
Conducted by an independent body
Elections should be conducted by an independent body for them to be considered free and fair. In Nigeria, the constitution of Nigeria tasks the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with the responsibility of conducting elections, including general and by-elections.
Transparency is critical in building trust and confidence of stakeholders and the general public that an election process is indeed free and fair. A transparent election is one that is open and can easily be inspected or observed by relevant stakeholders including political parties, observers and even voters. The stakeholders should be able to confidently verify there were no irregularities in the process of conducting elections.
Elections should be conducted in an impartial, neutral, efficient, accurate and accountable way. There should be no bias by the administrators and all aspirants should be treated equally with fairness.
Accuracy should also be observed to ensure tallying of all votes cast is done correctly so that the results are a true reflection the will of the people. Institutions responsible for managing elections need to carry their responsibilities as expected and be accountable to the public for elections to be free and fair.