Friday, March 12, 2010

Election Observers - time to sign up

Electoral Observer card

Over on Slugger, Mark has been musing on the subject of how a legitimate political state is defined (Congress of Vienna, the Montevideo convention, recognition by the UN and social theory) and how this is reflected in the arguments put forward by those who reject the legitimacy of Northern Ireland (usually referring to it as the Six Counties). I intend leaving that conversation over on Slugger where it will run long and heated!

But on a related note, the Electoral Commission recently updated their Code of Practice for Electoral Observers. Long time readers will remember that I signed up as an observer before last June’s European Election and posted a bit about some of what I saw during the opening of postal ballots, polling day, the verification and the count.

The introduction of the legislation that supports Electoral Observers was delayed in Northern Ireland until 2009. Though with the level of interest in politics and polls, it was no surprise that there were proportionally (and probably numerically) more observers registered in NI than anywhere else in the UK.

The Code of Practice has to be signed by observers, committing them to maintain political impartiality, observe the ballot secrecy requirements (ie, never reveal an individual’s vote), avoid obstructing the election process, make accurate observations, etc.

But the old Code of Practice contained a line that was innocuous in England, Wales and even Scotland, but stuck out in Northern Ireland’s context:

Respect sovereignty and international human rights

Election observers must respect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom as well as the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people …

The new code has been revised with a more inclusive wording that will discount fewer constitutional republicans from applying to be observers

Respect the laws of the United Kingdom, international human rights and the authority of electoral bodies

Observers must respect the laws of the United Kingdom as well as the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people …

Which all serves as a reminder that if you’re interesting in being able to observe democracy in action – perhaps at the upcoming General Election – and are keen to form part of the process of electoral accountability, then you’ll find more information about signing up on the Electoral Commission website.

With the change to the rules, there’s even less standing your way!

(Note that Electoral Observers are valid during General Elections, European Elections, NI-wide council elections but not council by-elections.)


Anonymous said...

Alan just wanted to say sorry for using your picture and not giving you credit for it, have left a comment on the Ogra page, just waiting for it to be put up. Love the blog by the way!

be honets lads...

Alan in Belfast said...

no worries - fixed now!

olli said...

I did a stint as an OSCE election observer in Albania when I was living there and it was a fascinating experience. Apart from the practical value of helping, in a small way, to safeguard the integrity of the political process, it provides insights into the workings of the political and democratic system that cannot be obtained any other way, no matter how many websites, newspapers and think-tank reports you read.

Any British or Irish citizen can sign up for election observation with the OSCE or EU.

Postings on my experience for anyone interested can be found here: