Election Observation: How Authoritarian Regimes Muddy the Waters

February 18, 2015
12:00 pm - 02:00 pm

1025 F. Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004


Patrick Merloe
Senior Associate and Director of Electoral Programs
National Democratic Institute

Jan Surotchak
Regional Director for Europe
International Republican Institute

Thomas O. Melia (invited)
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
United States Department of State

moderated by

Christopher Walker
Executive Director, International Forum for Democratic Studies

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About the Event 

Since the onset of the post-election popular uprisings known as “color revolutions” that took place in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, authoritarian governments have adopted a range of techniques to undermine credible election assessments by established observation organizations. The methods employed to “muddy the waters” include the suppression of citizen integrity efforts, the mobilization of pro-government NGOs to communicate disinformation about elections, the creation of authoritarian-backed “zombie” election monitors, and the geopolitical manipulation of intergovernmental election monitoring organizations. Patrick Merloe, Thomas O. Melia, and Jan Surotchak discussed how authoritarian regimes are devising new ways to impede authentic election observation as part of a wider authoritarian effort to create anti-democratic counternorms around the world.

About the Speakers

Patrick Merloe is senior associate and director of electoral programs at National Democratic Institute (NDI), where he oversees programs on nonpartisan citizen election monitoring and advocacy for electoral integrity; political party electoral integrity activities; constitutional and law reform efforts concerning electoral rights; and international election observation. He has participated in over 150 NDI missions to more than 65 countries, concentrating on conflict-sensitive states and countries that are vulnerable to authoritarian tendencies. He has produced a dozen publications on comparative law, human rights, and elections, and served as the principal drafter and negotiator of the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation, which has been endorsed by 38 international organizations. He has worked with United Nations bodies, other intergovernmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations, and has taught at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the University of San Francisco School of Law.

Thomas O. Melia is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL). He is responsible for DRL’s work in Europe, including Russia and the South Caucasus, and in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa region. In addition to serving as Head of U.S. Delegation to several meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), he was the U.S. co-chair of the Civil Society Working Group in the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission. Melia came to DRL in 2010 from Freedom House, where he was Deputy Executive Director for five years. Earlier, he held senior posts at the National Democratic Institute including Vice President for Programs (1998 to 2001). From 1999 to 2010, he taught at Georgetown University and the John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

Jan Surotchak is the regional director for Europe at the International Republican Institute (IRI), where he oversees programming in the Baltic States, Central and Southeastern Europe, and Turkey, as well as outreach efforts to partner parties in Western Europe and institutions at the European Union level. Surotchak manages IRI’s Leadership Institute for Central and Eastern Europe, European Political Party Foundation and Institute Network, and Citycraft Institute. He is also responsible for IRI’s European Partnership Initiative, through which the Institute develops relations with political parties in the European Union, in particular with the European People’s Party and its member organizations. Surotchak has taken part in numerous IRI election observation missions and political assessments around the world, including in Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, China, Honduras, Jordan, Nigeria, Somaliland and Turkey. He co-edited IRI’s study Why We Lost: Explaining the Rise and Fall of the Center-Right in Central and Eastern Europe, 1996-2002.