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How to be an STO?

Why have election observation missions?

Countries invite international election observers for a variety of reasons but often because they welcome the chance to demonstrate that the electoral process is open and transparent.† Election observation missions take account of the situation before, during and after Election Day. Election observation is not an end in itself Ė its aim is to help improve the quality of democracy in the future through post-election dialogue with the country and recommendations on improving the legal and practical side of the election process.

You should be conscious of the fact that not all elections are held in a peaceful environment and you should be aware of where to go, how to behave and what to expect.

The team

Chief Observer (CO): Overall responsibility, present at regular intervals throughout the mission
Deputy Chief Observer (DCO): Manager of the mission, always present (runs the observation)
Core Team Experts: Media, Legal, Election, Political/Country, Observation Data Analyst, Human Rights/Gender
Observer Coordinator: Coordinates both Long-Term Observers (LTOs) and Short-Term Observers (STOs) and processes reports and evaluations
Long-Term Observer (LTO): Your immediate supervisor
Implementing Partner (IP) / Service Provider (SP): Responsible for security, logistics, IT, finance (either IOM, UNDP, GTZ, ICON-Institute, Transtec)
Liaison Officer (LO): An IP/SP contact person in the field, responsible for local operational and security issues in your Area of Responsibility (AOR)

How to prepare yourself?

The best book to prepare yourself for EU observation is the Handbook for European Union Election Observation. You should also prepare yourself specifically for the country you are going to as much as you can in advance by reading available literature and going online. Your foreign ministry may have its own country guidelines online and there are many other Internet resources, such as Google, Google Earth, france24,†the world factbook or lonelyplanet. Prepare yourself for the mission. When you apply, get to know the political context of the country, geographical issues and medical warnings. You could be told when you are still at home where you will be deployed to, but if not, long sleeves are better than short sleeves, trousers not shorts, long skirts not short etc. Consider that even if the weather conditions will be hot, you could sometimes be in air-conditioned environments and might need something warm. Some countries have drastically different temperatures and atmospheric conditions Ė if this is the case do your best to find out where youíre going but if you canít, prepare for every eventuality.

Although you will be provided with some first aid gear, itís a good idea to prepare yourself a kit containing medicine to combat digestive problems and food poisoning. Take the pain killers you usually use as youíre unlikely to find your brand there, and consider bringing some paracetomol which can also relieve fever symptoms. If there will be mosquitoes, make sure to bring repellent sprays and if there is the possibility of malaria make sure you get your doctor to prescribe you anti-malarial prophylaxis. Check your vaccinations are correct for the country and up to date; ask your physician for advice on this. You can also ask at a good pharmacy.

You will be given a visibility kit when you arrive in country which contains tops, shirts, hats and jackets displaying the mission logo, so leave some space in your suitcase. Bring a ballpoint pen, a clipboard and a calculator.

What happens when you get off the airplane?

You will notice that experienced observers will quickly find the right conveyor belt, a luggage trolley if needed and the right exit. Youíll be met by EU EOM staff and the Observer Coordinator at the airport, but itís possible that there will be media and journalists as well. Make sure you are properly attired and behaving sensibly, you donít want to contribute to a bad impression on the evening news or the next dayís papers.

If you organise yourself well, you could make it more quickly into the hotel lobby. Tip: if youíre first to put your bags on the bus, youíll have to wait until all the bags are out before you get yours back. If you can get in to the hotel reception more quickly, youíre more likely to get a room you want Ė either a single or sharing with someone you know.

Once you arrive at the lobby there might be a table with the following dayís schedule on it. Take it when you have time - after finishing at the reception desk. Make sure you understand when to be where and at what time, and get an early night. The next two days will be very demanding and require a fresh mind. Briefings often take place in hotel conference rooms with air conditioning and no windows. There is usually a lot of material and information that has to be digested.


Even if your mission is to the Sahara desert, the air conditioned briefing room might be chilly. If someone has a cold it can quickly do the rounds. Plan ahead - have a jacket or a scarf to put around your shoulders. Bring a bag with you because you will be given a lot of documents. Try to eat healthily during the breaks, if not you could feel tired afterwards. And start immediately with the first rule of the mission: wash it or peel it! Donít take alcoholic drinks during the briefing breaks and try hard not to fall asleep or to start chatting with your neighbour while one of the mission or invited experts is delivering the briefing. Why? You will miss valuable information and you will give a bad first impression of yourself, especially if your behaviour is noticed by invited guests. Your behaviour is the basis upon which most people will judge the professionalism of the mission. It is also true that the first mission evaluation of you is done during the briefing so make sure you're at your professional best.


If you are familiar with satphones, satellite internet connections, mobile phones and VHS Radios, you have a strength to add to your team. If not, try to find out whether or not your partner is familiar with all this equipment. If not, be very attentive and ask questions until you understand. It will not be regarded as foolish or as a sign of your ignorance. Itís a sign of your responsibility. Your LTO will test your knowledge before sending you to your assignment.

Your Area of Responsibility (AoR) and your partner

Your AoR may not be the place you hoped to be deployed, but donít try to change your destination. Unless there are extraordinary reasons (like an unforeseen medical condition), you will not succeed in changing your deployment but you may succeed in irritating the Observer Coordinator at a very busy moment. The deployment plan takes the Core Team a lot of hard work and thought and takes into consideration many factors that you may not be aware of. So bear that in mind and make the best of it. If you like your partner, enjoy the mission and look forward to working together. If you feel youíve been landed with the worst possible teammate, give him or her a chance. Think of it as your responsibility to try to get along, even if they are difficult. By being persistently kind, you should be able to make the situation bearable, and if not exactly fun, at least establish cordial working relations. Donít try to get the Coordinator to give you a new partner. As a Short-Term Observer, you only have to survive a few days with your partner, so be as positive as you can and youíll get through it. You may make a good friend for life.

LTO, the first contact

Once you arrive in your province or region by airplane, train, boat or car, your Long-Term Observers are waiting for you. They will welcome you and hand out your personal briefing pack, including specific details and updates about your AoR. They have worked hard to prepare the ground for your mission, please be respectful of this. The LTOs will evaluate you individually and the first contact is important. Stick to the time frames and appointments theyíve made for you. Donít be hasty to criticise the hotel they chose for you, it will probably be the best available one and there is a reason why it has been selected even if itís not immediately clear to you.

Your staff

A number one cause of STOs feeling annoyed is problems with staff. It might be the driver, if he has no feeling for the car, it could be the interpreter who has terrible problems in understanding you. The interpreter is selected either by the LTOs or the Implementing Partner/ Service Provider staff and they should have mission language skills as well as local language abilities. But they may be nervous, need the job to finance their studies or lives and they could have problems adjusting to your accent Ė which could be hard to understand. You may have to adjust your expectations if they are too high. Your ability to adapt is a key quality that will help you to be a good STO. Help your staff to feel comfortable and give them a chance. If you realise that they simply cannot do the translation job at all though, contact your LTO and ask for a replacement if possible. You are highly dependent on reliable translation.

As for your driver, try to involve him as much as appropriate. Ask him to do small tasks, e.g. to listen to a local radio station in order to pass on the news or developments in your region, stocking up on water, newspapers, fresh fruit etc. Make them feel an important part of the team. Inform them from the start on agreed rules like defensive driving, seatbelts on, first aid kit on board, car check every day, tail-in parking, logbook up to date etc. Keeping the team together is your responsibility. Treat your staff with respect and consideration and make time for breaks.

How to dress?

"Why are international election observers so badly dressed?" Quote from an African Union representative

Dress smartly! It may be fashionable where you come from to wear vintage clothes and jeans with holes but in many countries distressed clothing means you have made no effort and do not respect your hosts. As an EU observer, you are a kind of ambassador for the EU and your country. If you want to be taken seriously, respect your interlocutors and their culture as much as you can. Avoid T-shirts (especially sleeveless), jeans, combat trousers, short skirts, short dresses and similar casual styles that will make you look like a tourist.

Your accommodation

A friendly, cheerful and respectful person is a respected one. A respected person has a good chance of being warned if there is trouble. Receptionists, waiters, cleaning staff etc are also, in a certain way, an extension of your team. Encourage them and praise their good work. Your LTO team will have chosen your hotel and the floor cautiously, but here are just some reminders of common sense hotel booking. Always if possible: donít stay on the first two floors (people may throw things into your room), check fire exits, have a window in your room (nothing is more depressing than staring at a wall or not having fresh air), have a view to the main road or hotel front (you may notice crowds early), have a functioning bath or shower and a proper door with a lock. In case the lock is damaged, ask for replacement. Even if you have to pay for this, it might be really worth your while.

Leave your belongings in your suitcase and lock it. Take your flight ticket, passport, money and credit cards with you. You may opt to buy one of those travel bags that you can wear on your body under a top. In case you have to work in a volatile environment, you will be asked to have a 15 kg safety bag always with you. Inside that bag pack you should have toiletries, medicine you have to take, your money, flight ticket, passport, credit cards and enough clothing for two days.


You are strongly advised not to bring expensive camera equipment with you. For one thing, it can be stolen, and for another, it contributes to making you look like a tourist. Be careful about how and when you take pictures Ė be sensible about it, and be sensitive to the local environment and how the people feel about having pictures taken. If people like it and are pleased then thatís fine, but donít assume in advance that itís okay, without finding out first. Before you take pictures of people, always ask for permission. In many countries it is strictly forbidden to take photos of military personnel, military machinery, battle fields, military barracks or official buildings and factories and other strategically important points. Do you know which picture is of a strategically important place? Quite often you may not. It might be what you think is a harmless photo of the landscape, you simply donít know. STOs have been detained by the police and accused of spying for ignoring warning signs not to take photos. Bear this in mind and use some common sense. In case of doubt, please ask your mission Security Expert for advice before going to the field.

Where are you from?

This is a common question and often asked. Conversation is very important for your interlocutors and they will show an interest in you as a person. First, you should always take time for your interlocutors, relax the atmosphere before you start with your questions. Don't be too hasty to push your own agenda because you are in a hurry. If you get to know the person, you may find out more. Some of your interlocutors will have never heard of the EU, take the time to explain. Think, in advance, about how you will explain questions like ďWhat is the European Union?Ē A union of 27 member states in Europe (like Germany, France, Luxembourg etc Ė give concrete examples, it helps people to understand) with shared laws and values including respect for fundamental freedoms like freedom of movement etc. You will have a fact sheet in your documents that you receive from the mission. Take the time to read it and to recall some facts. It is always a good idea to have some copies with you in order to distribute them to the interlocutors. Some people may know something about your country Ė what do people usually know about it? Be ready to talk about some of these things in a nice, relaxed way. Expect them to know more about your country than you may think.

Your task

You are deployed, in teams of two, to observe polling day and the early counting of ballots. Long-Term Observers report regularly and have prepared your observation task in your location area.

STOs will observe, assess and report on the following aspects of the electoral process:

  1. election environment, including the atmosphere over the election day period, and whether there are instances of intimidation, restrictions on freedom of movement, or other problems;

  2. implementation of voting procedures, including compliance with national laws, whether the right to vote and the right to a secret ballot are enjoyed in practice, and whether polling officials act in an impartial manner;

  3. implementation of the procedures for the counting of votes, including compliance with national laws, whether the votes are counted promptly, accurately and honestly, counting officials act in an impartial manner, and the process is transparent; and

  4. tabulation and publication of results, including whether there is a transparent, accurate and prompt transfer, tabulation and publication of results, and whether there are problems with the wider post-election environment. Each STO team completes report forms that contain checklists for the evaluation of voting, counting, and tabulation procedures. These are returned to the EU EOM headquarters for statistical analysis. In addition, STOs provide narrative reports and regular updates to their designated LTO team. This is especially important where an STO team observes serious irregularities or problematic events.

This latter section was taken from the Handbook for European Union Election Observation. If you want to improve your election observation knowledge, take a look at this and other important publications.


You will be evaluated as a team. Your evaluation is important for further election observation appointments. But more importantly, you are representing the European Union, your country and yourself. Familiarise yourself with the EU EOM Code of Conduct and make sure to adhere to it strictly.

EU EOM Code of Conduct

  1. Observers will respect the laws of the land. They enjoy no special immunities as international observers, unless the host country so provides.
  2. Observers will participate in all pre-election briefings with their supervising officers.
  3. Observers will be subject to the direction and management of the observer team leadership, carrying out their written terms of reference and covering the geographical schedules specified by team leaders.
  4. Observers should be aware of the presence of other electoral observation groups, and liaise with them under the direction of the EU EOM leadership.
  5. Observers will carry with them prescribed identification issued by the host government or election management body, and will identify themselves to any interested authority upon request.
  6. Observers will maintain strict impartiality in the conduct of their duties, and shall at no time express any bias or preference in relation to national authorities, parties, candidates, or with reference to any issues in contention in the election process.
  7. Observers will not display or wear any partisan symbols, colours or banners.
  8. Observers will undertake their duties in an unobtrusive manner, and will not disrupt or interfere with the election process, polling day procedures, or the vote count.
  9. Observers may bring irregularities to the attention of the election officials, but will not give instructions or countermand decisions of the election officials.
  10. Observers will base all conclusions on well documented, factual, and verifiable evidence, and will keep a record of the polling stations and other relevant places that they visit.
  11. Observers will refrain from making any personal or premature comments about their observations to the media or any other interested persons, but should provide, through a designated liaison officer or spokesperson, general information about the nature of their activities as observers.
  12. Observers will participate in post-election de-briefings with their supervising officers and will contribute fully towards EU reports on the elections being observed.
  13. Observers must comply with all national laws and regulations. Where these limit freedom of assembly or movement about the country, they must note where such rules prevent them from carrying out their duties.
  14. At all times during the mission, including during private time away from work, each election observer should behave blamelessly, exercise sound judgement, and observe the highest level of personal discretion.