Election Administration: Risks in Elections

Not everything always goes to plan in an election. There are two ways of reacting when things go wrong: either you are caught out and stunned into inaction, or you are ready to respond because you’ve already come up with a contingency plan. A robust contingency plan identifies and considers risks in advance and develops a plan of action which can be effectively communicated when required.

Members of the election committee or the election officer can simply refer to the contingency plan and know exactly what to do in case of emergencies. Good planning is halfway to success – and it doesn’t just apply to the election calendar or election budget

What can go wrong during an election?

It is best to run through the entire election with your election committee in advance. The election starts with planning, preparing and organizing the election and ends with voting, counting and evaluating. Think about what could go wrong at each step. The possibilities are manifold, but we have some ideas for you:

  • A candidate drops out
  • The election officer gets sick
  • Voters don’t receive their polling card
  • Misprints on ballot papers or notifications which weren’t received
  • The election results are incorrect

Be imaginative when considering risks as this will stimulate new ideas and assist you in preparing for any circumstance which may have been previously overlooked.

Identify the weak spots in the election

Once you have identified and summarized all possible risks, discuss them and determine what could be done in each situation.

Make a note for each of those risks:

  • Who is the relevant contact person?
  • What exactly has to be done / who has to be informed?
  • What are the consequences for the election? 

All persons who are part of administering the election can include themselves in this process. By doing so, you will establish an clear information flow in case of emergency and avoid unnecessary chaos or a vacuum of responsibilities which will lead to even more mistakes. 

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Make the contingency plan accessible to everyone

If something unpredictable happens it’s all about acting fast. That’s why it’s important to make the risk and contingency plan accessible to all. You can send the contingency plan via email to all persons involved, print it out, stick it on a wall, and make it available online. 

Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong, will go wrong

Stay one step ahead of Murphy’s Law in your organization’s next election by taking into account the potential risks. Being prepared for everything leads to more successful elections.