EU EOM Standard Observation Forms
The European Union Services organised a methodological review and update of European Union Election Observation Mission standard practices in 2011 which led to a number of important conclusions regarding the use of observation forms. Until then, standard practice was to create specific forms for each mission, resembling previous forms from previous missions in so far as EU EOM Core Team analysts brought their own experience to bear on the creation of new forms. Different Core Team analysts were involved in the process, depending on the make-up of the mission. Despite the existence of templates published in the Handbook for European Union Election Observation, there was no standard method of arriving at the questions, regarding style or content. Each Core Team decided separately on whether questions should be closed, open, the type of scale, whether the scale should be the same throughout etc. The number of questions in EU EOM forms from 2001-2011 ranges broadly. E-day forms contained a high number of questions (on average 88) and an average of 11% of the data collected from the forms could be found in preliminary statements. A comparison with other international observer groups indicated that the majority support the use of standard forms, including the closest methodologically - the OSCE/ODIHR (standard with 10% country specific), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center.
The EU perceived the following advantages to introducing standard observation forms:
- The reduction in time that EU EOM CT analysts would have to spend on devising the forms, allowing more time for other avenues of work;
- Improvement of training and briefing of LTOs and STOs in understanding and using the forms, with experienced observers needing less time to familiarise themselves with the content from mission to mission, and more time therefore devoted to reaching a common understanding of concepts (such as unifying assessments on voters’ understanding of the polling procedures as to what constitutes ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘poor’ etc.);
- Greater observer understanding should lead to a more homogeneous and accurate process during filling out the forms and hence more reliable results.
Not a national representative sample, but a qualitative sample
EU EOMs do not currently meet the criteria to reach a representative sample of polling stations, from which to extrapolate national trends in E-day performance. Closing procedure forms cover an even smaller sample. The EU EOM in Nigeria 2011 covered 0.64% of polling stations. One reason why EU EOMs do not reach a representative national sample is that there are too few observers, however there are many other limitations caused by valid considerations of the deployment methodology. These include ‘balanced geographical coverage’, so that observers can be said to be in all regions of the country (an unbiased sample would be a random selection of polling stations, meaning it’s unlikely all parts of the country would be in the lottery). EU EOMs also take a special interest in ‘areas of specific relevance’ such as post-conflict, minority, IDP areas or other political hot-spots. There are also practical reasons why it is more difficult in EU missions to deploy observers to random parts of the country: logistics, infrastructure, poor weather conditions, security concerns. There are costs in terms of money and time of observers involved in selecting random observation areas. In Ethiopia for example, 80% of the population lives three to five days walking distance away from the nearest road. Sending observers to observe at rural polling stations has the result of lowering the overall number of polling stations it is possible to observe, while leaving rural polling stations out risks creating an urban bias.
EU EOM reports need to reflect the fact that observation data does not represent a viable national sample, therefore it is incorrect to state that ‘90% of polling stations opened on time’ when what is meant is ‘90% of observed polling stations opened on time’. Missions need to emphasise that the data collected by EU observers on E-day is used to back up findings collected over a long-term basis during the campaign and run-up to the elections. The percentage representation of findings adds to the overall qualitative assessment and is not offered as a strict random sample of the country, but to illustrate certain trends identified in the course of the entire process.
EU EOM forms focus on international legal obligations and commitments
Standardising the forms has provided the opportunity to do a systematic review of questions to ensure they are linked closely to legal obligations for elections based in international treaties. They focus on:
• Voting process
• Voter lists
• Possible irregularities
• Counting process
• Tabulation process
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