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Leslie Johns 0:04

Hello everyone and welcome to today's Burkle book talks on Monitors and Meddlers. Just a few announcements before we get started. This webinar is being recorded but only the speakers are visible and audible. The audience cannot be seen or heard. Both the video and audio will be available on the Burkle Center website, as well as on YouTube and on Apple Podcasts. We invite you to submit your questions through the Q&A portal, which is located at the bottom of your screen. Today, we're delighted to have two experts on international relations who are co-authors of today's book. Our first author is Sarah Bush, who's an associate professor of political science at Yale University. She is an expert on international influences on elections and democracy. And she conducts research on the roles of nongovernmental organizations in world politics, as well as conducting research on the origins of gender differences in climate attitudes worldwide. So obviously, she has a lot of diverse research interests. And her co-author is Lauren Prather, who is a fellow University of California professor. She is an associate professor at UC San Diego. She teaches in the School of Global Policy and Strategy. And her work focuses on political behavior in international relations. She specializes in democracy promotion, and democratization, foreign aid, as well as migration, and she's an expert in experimental methods in political science. So I'm gonna go ahead and turn things over to Sarah and Lauren, who are going to share their research with us today. Thanks so much, ladies.

Sarah Bush 2:05

Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here with all of you today. I am going to handle the initial presentation of our research. And then we will work together with Lauren taking the lead on the Q&A. We're so glad to share findings from our book with all of you. So where we start our book is with a quote from a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson in 1787, where he writes that "you are apprehensive of foreign interference, intrigue, influence, so am I. But as often as elections happen, the danger of foreign influence recurs." And our observation in this book, which was published just last fall by Cambridge University Press, is that Adams was right in this letter, at least partially. He was right that foreign influences on elections are very common. And as we'll get into in a moment, some of these elections might end up being good for democracy, and then some of them end up being much more negative. But what's really interesting to us about these foreign influences on elections is that many of them are invited by countries. Countries are welcoming various forms of foreign influence into their elections. And in this book, we look at public attitudes about elections, to help understand when and why countries invite different types of foreign influences into their country's elections. The book, which you can see on this slide here, examines two different types of foreign influences on elections, election monitors, and what we call election meddling, which I will focus in the presentation mostly on the role of monitors, but we'll be very happy to talk about the role of malign foreign interference in elections, or meddling in the Q&A. And our takeaways about how monitors shape citizens trust in elections are that these effects depend on who is doing the interference or monitoring, who that group is. They depend on what party the person in the country supports, does the person support the winning party in an election or the losing party in an election. And then finally, the effects of foreign influences depend on how uncertainty electoral environment is, and we reached these conclusions by drawing on original surveys that we conducted in three countries, the US, Tunisia and Georgia, as well as other forms of evidence. So I'll try to flesh out these overall takeaways in the next 20 minutes or so. But first, let me begin with an introduction of sorts to election monitoring. So there are many different organizations that serve as election monitors around the world. I see the slides are not advancing, I'm sorry, I don't, I just received a message to that effect. Perhaps let me pause my screen share it, stop my screen sharing for a minute, and then restart it and see if that helps. Try this again. Of course, this is the sort of thing where it worked perfectly during the practice session but now the problem emerged. Lauren, can you give me a thumbs up if you see this advancing now? Okay, great. So what's pictured on the slide here is a group of election observers, and there's many different nongovernmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations that work today as election observers, and they're actually present at most countries' elections in the world. This slide, which uses data from a data set that was collected by Professors Susan Hyde, and Nikolai Marinov on elections in all countries in the world shows that although during the middle part of the 20th century, virtually no national elections were observed by international groups, during the most recent years in which they have data 2015, about 80% of elections are observed. And so this has been a phenomenon that's spread all over the world, and many different countries are engaged in it. Also of interest to us is that some of the organizations that are working as election monitors today are not the ones that we may first think of when we think of election observers, like we think of really reputable groups from the US like the Carter Center founded by former President Jimmy Carter, but there's also authoritarian organizations both led by Russia and China, and other nongovernmental organizations that really monitor elections and aren't transparent in the way they do their work, and try to help autocrats survive by giving a thumbs up to low quality elections. And so our project, one of the things that we're interested in is given this multiplicity of election observers, how might different groups affect public attitudes? So there's two puzzles about election monitoring, especially in non-democracies, that we're very interested in, in doing this research. One is that non-democracies sometimes invite credible international monitors, groups like the Carter Center, even though those groups can be sure to criticize the elections there. You know, why do they countries like that open themselves up to criticism from the international community? And then also of interest to us is that sometimes these non-democracies invite the zombie groups, which may help them by getting validation for the elections domestically, but these kinds of groups will really discredit them within the international community. And so why are non democracies doing this? And we suggest that the answer to both questions can be found in, at least partially, in looking at the public's responses to election monitors. So in the book, the research design that we adopt to try to answer these questions involves serving the public in three countries with different levels of democracy. We include the United States, a long standing consolidated democracy in our study. We included Tunisia, after the revolution that it experienced as part of the Arab Spring, and Tunisia at the time of our study was a transitional democracy. More recently, if you've been following events there, you'll know, things have unfortunately taken darker turn in terms of Tunisian politics. And then we also included Georgia in our study, which is a country that has been a fairly stable kind of partial democracy or a country somewhere in between democracy and full scale autocracy for some number of years now. We conducted these studies over a period of years, since this is a book that we've been working on for a long time. The US surveys we conducted before and after elections that were held in 2016, 2018, and 2020. In Tunisia, we also did surveys before and after elections. Here our research was conducted around the parliamentary and presidential elections that were held there in 2014. And then our research in Georgia took place before two rounds of presidential elections in the first and second stages and 2018. And in all of our surveys, what we did is we included different experiments that were designed to inform people about the activities of election observers, and I'll explain what this looks like in just a minute. And then ask people after giving them information about the activities of election observers, how much trust they had in their elections, and we were interested to see how the information about observers might increase or under some conditions, even decrease, trust in the elections, depending on who the person is and where the election was taking place.

So in terms of the key findings, we wanted to highlight kind of two big takeaways here about the effects of election observers on trust. The first is from an experiment that we conducted in all three countries that informed people about the evaluations of election observers. So we sorted respondents in our surveys into three groups and people were randomly assigned into each of these groups. So the group should be quite similar on average, in terms of their different characteristics. Some people heard positive information from election observers reports, some heard negative information, and then some heard no information at all. And that last group is what we refer to as the control group. In the finding, we had across these different contexts that were very diverse in terms of how democratic they are, is that hearing criticism from election observers doesn't weaken the trust that election observers have in an election. Now, people who support a winning candidate or party in an election tend to have really high levels of trust. This is a what is known in the literature as a winner-loser gap in electoral trust, and it holds across many different countries, including all three in our studies. And for those winners, who tend to be very confident in elections, they don't, they don't have their trust shaken. But for losers, the picture is a little bit different. So on this slide, what we're showing you is just the results for people who supported the winning candidate or party in the Tunisian legislative election, the 2016 and 2020 US elections and the second-round presidential election in Georgia; these were the four countries where we included this experiment. And the circles on this slide highlights the people who heard the positive information from election observers reports and the diamonds, the people who heard the negative information from election observers reports. And what this graph is showing you is the effect of hearing this different, these different types of information with the dotted line down the middle at zero, which denotes when there's no effect when we hear this positive or negative news relative to control group. And you can see basically, for the election winners, they're all really right around zero, regardless, zero effect, regardless of which kind of report they heard. So the election winners don't change their minds very much. They're already very confident. Hearing good news doesn't make them even more confident, but hearing negative news doesn't upset them either. Now turning to the people who supported the losing candidates and parties in the same election, so we can see that the picture is different. So when people in Tunisia and in both of the US elections heard negative news, or criticism from the election observers' reports, there is a negative effect, since we're to the left of this red line here, which means that people became less confident in their country's elections. And then very interestingly, in Georgia, when people heard positive news from election observers, but supported the losing party, there's a negative effect there. And from interviews and other research that we've done in Georgia, we interpret this as an effect that has happened because a lot of people in Georgia have a great deal of suspicion about election observers because of their history in that country, and we can talk about that more in the Q&A if you're interested. But the takeaway really is that people who support losing candidates and parties are more likely to change their views in a negative direction from election observers' reports. Now the second type of experiment that we conducted that we wanted to highlight for you today is one where we told respondents in our surveys about the mere presence of different types of election observers. And for this study, we varied the nationality of the observer in question as well as some other traits, which I'll explain in a moment. And, like with the first experiment, there was a control group that didn't hear any information about election observers. The key finding here is that the presence of election observers can cause people to become more confident in their country's elections but only when people think that election observers are capable of detecting fraud, and willing to do so, which is to say that they're unbiased. And it turns out that sometimes the election observers that have these traits in the eyes of the public are surprising. So we conducted this experiment in three contexts, Tunisia after the presidential election, the US in 2016, and then Georgia before the first-round election. And on the axis here is how much confidence people had in their elections. So higher values indicate that there have more trust. And the diamond indicates that people heard about capable and unbiased election observers and the dot indicates that they didn't hear about election observers at all. You can see that when election observers that had these traits were mentioned in Tunisia, in the US, it made people more confident in their elections. We don't really see this kind of effect in Georgia. And we see from other questions in our survey, that this might be because Georgia was a context where people were already very certain about how good they thought their election was. Some people were certain the election was good. And some people were certain that the election was bad. So not everyone agreed about the quality of the election. But people were very certain. If we just focused the analysis on people who didn't have much certainty, then the picture in Georgia looks more similar to the Tunisia and US results where actually there was more uncertainty, even though the US, you know, is a long standing democracy. And then in Tunisia, what's interesting is to look at which observers were the ones that people said they thought were most capable, and most unbiased. And so higher values on this figure indicate that people thought that the observers had both of these traits. And as you can see, our study mentioned five different types of election observers. And it was the observers from the Arab League, not ones from the EU or the US, you know, countries that are more traditionally associated with capable observers. It was the Arab League observers that Tunisians thought were capable and unbiased, and that's why the Arab League observers were also the monitors in Tunisia, that enhanced people's perceptions of election credibility the most. So returning to the two puzzles that we started the presentation with, about why non democracies invite observers that will criticize them, our answer would be, well, if you look at the public, the people who are the supporters of the government, the election winners in a non democracy, those people are not very perturbed by hearing negative content from credible election observers. So it seems that that not inviting them doesn't, that inviting them doesn't hurt the survival of autocrats. And then in terms of our second question, about why non democracies invite these kind of sham or zombie monitoring groups that the international community doesn't think are reputable, it may be because these groups are viewed by the public as being more capable and unbiased than the international community does, and therefore that they can help the government when it comes to its own survival. Okay, so we wanted to conclude our presentation by drawing out some of the implications for policy and practice in this space. So part of the reason why Lauren and I wanted to write this book in the first place, is that how much trust people have in their countries elections really matters, it matters for whether they decide to vote in elections. And it matters for whether they decide to turn up after elections and protest, or in some cases engage in violence. And because of the effects that trust in elections has on these outcomes like voting and protests and even violence, citizens' trust shapes countries' overall trajectories in terms of democracy and whether they experienced things like revolutions. You know, we know how much citizens trust matters and US, given the events of January 6.

What can be done to build trust in elections, or in some cases, rebuild it in countries where, you know, trust is actually merited? Thinking here, especially about the US. So in the book, we talk about building rebuilding trust using two strategies based on our findings. The first is the importance of amplifying high quality information. So the information that election observers can pay to the public doesn't always sway them, but sometimes it does. And so here, it's important for us to think about how high quality information in this space can be publicized, be more salient to citizens. In most countries where we did our surveys, people didn't know a lot already about election observers. And so this is something that that, I think, you know, is an area where, where more can be done. The book also has some lessons for how to combat low quality information, kind of using similar strategies. And here, we think it's important for people who are practitioners or advocates to think about highlighting the capabilities and trust of observers to make sure that, you know, to make sure that people understand who is worth listening to. We thought we would share just some kind of recent research that we've been doing since the book was published as we continue to explore these issues. And one thing that we're quite interested in, is the really diverse set of laws that are highlighted here in this screen for five states in the US about observer access. And you know, some states don't allow non-partisan observers, they only allow partisan observers, other states do allow non-partisan observers, some of them only allowed domestic non-partisan observers, some allow international ones too. And we were curious, just as our book was getting published this fall, about how awareness of these state-by-state laws might shape Americans confidence and their elections. And so we fielded a survey a few months ago, asking Americans about 10 different states' elections, and highlighted for them the different kinds of observers that were permitted to have access to elections in those states, mentioning partisan observers and non-partisan observers, both domestic and international. And again, like with earlier experiments, the control group heard no information. And the key takeaway here was that domestic nonpartisan observers had the greatest positive effect on trust, relative to the control group, as well as all the other groups that you know, the partisan and the nonpartisan observers. This was true both for Republicans and Democrats, although, you know, noting here that in the 2022 election, thinking about, you know, the state results, the winner is a bit ambiguous here as compared to maybe the 2016 election, or other contexts that we've sometimes had in the US. And so we think that the findings reinforce the importance of building nonpartisan observers' capacity, and making sure that nonpartisan observers, nonpartisan status is you know, preserved and publicized so that Americans' trust in elections can be you know, when warranted, or rebuilt. So with that, we will conclude and really looking forward to questions from Leslie, as well as all of you who are here today.

Leslie Johns 24:01

Thanks so much, Sarah, and Lauren, thanks so much for sharing your research. For those of you who are guests with us today, if you go to the chat box, we've been posting information about how you can purchase a copy of the book. Obviously, you can go to Amazon and get it through there or through major academic bookstores, but you can also purchase it directly through Cambridge University Press. Also, if you would like to submit a question for Sarah and Lauren, please remember that you can click on the Q&A button at the bottom of your screen and that will if you type your question, it'll shoot over to me and I can go ahead and give it to Sarah and Lauren on your behalf. But just to get us started, I went ahead and read a couple of my own questions as the moderator's prerogative. So one question I had from reading the book—first of all, thank you, thank you so much. It's a really fascinating book and, you know, obviously, it must have been so challenging figuring out how to get so much into just 20-25 minutes. So there's a lot to read. And there's a lot more in the book, you know, you talk a lot about monitors and meddlers, it's a great concept about how they really are sort of two sides of the same coin. And I love that framing, I think it's so clever. One thing that I was really sort of intrigued by is sort of the broader arguments about trust and credibility and information, I think actually really apply more broadly. And we know a lot of international actors, including countries spend a lot of time and effort and money investing and all different kinds of propaganda, including creating news sources, things like RT, or, you know, different government affiliated news sources, and I was wondering if you'd given any thought to sort of the broader implications of information credibility, and how those might also affect the dynamics of elections, in all different types of countries?

Lauren Prather 26:24

Yeah, thanks, Leslie, this is a really interesting question, and definitely something that we want to explore going forward. One of the unique contexts or features of elections is the uncertainty that individuals have about how about the quality of their election, right. So when you go and vote, you can observe what you see in the polling station where you cast your vote or where you drop off your ballot. But you can't observe what's going on in polling stations around the country, right. And so there's a great deal of uncertainty that individuals have about the quality of their elections. And so into this uncertainty, information is key, right, and so people can form their opinions about elections based on a lot of different factors. So one of the factors that Sarah mentioned is just this win-loss dynamic, right. So if I won an election, I believe my candidate was the best candidate. If I see that they won, then that reassures me, because I think well, other people must have also liked my candidate and voted for them, and the system produced the result that is rational to me, right and so I think that the election is great. Conversely, losers, they also think the candidate they supported was great. And they assume that other people also thought it was great. But if the system doesn't produce that result, if their candidate loses, then they begin to question the system itself. And if they don't have good quality information about the quality of their election, that can sow real doubt. That's even casting aside the whole emotional aspect of this, right. So just the writing the 'Hi, I'm supporting the winning candidate,' or, or you know, feeling very depressed about your candidate losing, you could even just have a rational response where you think 'my candidate was the best, why didn't they win? There must be something wrong with this system.' And so because of this uncertainty, we look at one source of information, right, so election monitors can come in and say, you know, here's how we evaluated the election. Here are the things that we found that were positive and negative. And this can provide an objective source of information to individuals to help clarify some of the uncertainty around the quality of elections that they can't themselves observe. And then similarly, for malign interventions, like election meddling, if information comes to light that a foreign actor has tipped the scales, that can also provide direct information about the quality of the election. So we think news sources, both domestic and international, can have a similar effect, right, they can provide information, whether it'd be propaganda and false information or, or or true information, right. And this can influence individuals; we still think that probably the factors that we talked about in the book, how capable the let's just say like the journalistic outlet is how capable they are of like, you know, do they have the right experts that can actually speak to the quality of elections? That might matter in the same way that election monitors capabilities matter. And then of course, the big thing here would be bias, if that news source is perceived to be on the side of one candidate over another and not just the side of democracy, then that's going to influence whether individuals trust that new source, whether they take on information that that new source is providing, and whether it causes more polarization in the electorate. But we definitely, like, in future work would like to explore how our theory would apply to different actors.

Leslie Johns 30:26

Yeah. Okay. Very cool. So one of our co sponsors for this talk is the Safeguarding Democracy Project, which is based in the Law School. And, you know, one of the, you know, big focuses of that project is the idea of focusing on electoral politics, I shouldn't say politics, electoral law in the US. So I suspect that the audience members who came in through that organization are really excited to see that that information you put up about the state by state variation. Yeah, that's a really, really interesting project. And just to follow up on that, I wasn't expecting you to put that up. I think that's super interesting. But what why do you think it is that that sort of there, is it sort of a, an American exceptionalism, this notion that, that domestic monitors must be better than international monitors? Or, you know, that like why is it, like, like, maybe I'm not, I'm not asking the question clearly, clearly enough. But, but but you sort of you said in there that you sort of expect that, that there's this notion that that we have to trust the domestic nonpartisan monitors as being better than sort of expecting outside British monitors or French monitors or UN monitors. You know, do you have any sort of intuition as to why we would expect our monitors to go monitor other people, but we wouldn't expect others to monitor ourselves?

Lauren Prather 32:07

Yeah. So I think it could be precisely what you lead with about this idea of American exceptionalism. But it's, it's actually I think, preference or trust in domestic monitors over international monitors is actually not something that I would say is likely unique to the United States. So actually, a lot of democracy promotion activities have been around trying to build capacity in other countries to have their own domestic monitoring. It's a lot cheaper, it's a lot more robust, because there's more citizens to draw on locally, as opposed to bringing in international teams. And the idea here would be that if you have a bigger pool of observers to draw on, you can cover more areas of the country, you can ensure that there's less chance of fraud if you're able to cover more polling stations, etc. So it's actually part of I would say the democracy promotion community's advice is to build capacity for domestic monitoring. So that's about again, sort of the capability side of things, but you also do have this bias question and it is the case that, also not just in the United States, but in other countries, there is some skepticism about international actors and observers. So as we were pointing out with the Arab League finding in Tunisia, it is the case that Tunisians believed American and EU observers had the capability to detect fraud, but they were perceived to be more biased than the Arab League. And you can think about why that would be for a whole host of reasons with Western interventions in the Middle East, etc. And that that would not be a unique phenomenon to Tunisia, that would be something we would see more broadly. I don't think that's necessarily what's going on in the US case. The US might just have sort of certain individuals might just have a skepticism of international actors. But I do think in some countries, there would be real and potentially warranted skepticism of whether or not these international monitors are biased or, you know, support one side over another. So I think that there's a real opportunity to build capacity for domestic monitors, both in the US and abroad, and also potentially to build up these regional organizations like the Arab League to build their capacity for election monitoring, if they would be sort of a more trusted source than American or Western observers. So I think there's a lot of variation in the United States across states in terms of what types of observers they allow access to. And that is also just, I'll end here for this question, that is also somewhat unique to American elections because of the decentralized nature of American elections and states getting to make decisions about their electoral law; that's pretty unique to the United States. So I think there is a push to have more standard access for monitors and more standardized laws on this across states. I know, there are organizations that are pushing for that. So that that's one thing that I'd like to observe going forward is how we can build a more sort of standard access portfolio for election monitors across US states.

Leslie Johns 35:55

Oh okay. I was gonna ask you about, you know, any lessons learned for, you know, protecting American democracies. It seems like it seems like Sarah offered several at the end of her presentation. We've also sort of hinted at a couple here. Are there any other sort of lingering ideas that we want to put out for possible discussion before we get to some of the audience questions?

Lauren Prather 36:21

Sure, I think

Leslie Johns 36:23

Other sort of big ideas that we should put out there yeah?

Lauren Prather 36:26

Yeah, one thing that actually is a part of a separate project that Sarah and I have, but is also related to this is looking at various policy solutions to meddling. So we've we've talked a lot about the monitoring side of things in this talk. But there are also changes that can be made to election law to make US elections and other countries' elections more protected from foreign meddling. Okay. And one of the challenges we see that we've been talking to democracy promoting organizations about is that if a candidate or party wins with the support of meddling, they're unlikely to take the steps to prevent meddling in the future that we would want them to take. So for example, you can see after the 2016 Russian intervention in US elections, which we believe was on the side of the Trump campaign and Republicans, that subsequently a number of proposals were made to strengthen US elections, and to protect them from foreign meddling, and they never made it out of Congress. And we think this is partially a response to, a rational response from a winning party that maybe won with some assistance from foreign meddling, that they wouldn't feel the pressure to necessarily strengthen elections against meddling in the future. And we've talked about to democracy promotion organizations that are going around to countries to try to build the type of capacity to protect elections, and they're bumping up against this political dynamic as well. So I think one key thing now that were more removed from that 2016 election, Sarah and I have fielded a survey, that shows actually that some of the changes that were in those earlier laws that were debated in Congress in 2017 and 2018, some of those same policies now do have bipartisan support among the citizens, now that were sort of removed from that particular election episode. And so we think, convincing winners that it's still in their best interest to protect elections from foreign influence, and, you know, waiting maybe a few years until the dust has settled, that if there's bipartisan support for these kinds of policy intervention to, you know, increase penalties for cooperating with foreign actors, to strengthen the transparency around campaign funding, such that you can't receive campaign funds from foreign actors, all of these kinds of policies would be interventions that would strengthen US elections and other countries' elections against the threat of foreign meddling. So, so we see that as again, something that we have to pay attention to the politics, but if there is bipartisan support is something that should really go forward.

Leslie Johns 39:43

Okay, great. Okay, I'm gonna turn to some of the questions from from our guests in the audience. I'm gonna do my best because some of these are quite long questions, so I might have to condense them a little bit. See one of our guest asks about how valid are election and voter data when turnout is relatively low. The guest asked, they're thinking about the most recent Tunisian elections or the elections during Mubarak's famous, consistent 96 plus vote year after year. I guess sort of thinking about how we should think about these elections when maybe we sort of question the accuracy of what is being, I guess I'll just say that's what the question is asking. Yeah. How should we think about this when maybe the turnout isn't necessarily completely accurate or maybe people are being forced to vote? Yeah.

Lauren Prather 40:52

So I think there's actually to two different kind of elections embedded in that question, you know. The first election would be, you know, maybe a vote in which the quality of the election, the integrity of the election, actual institutions are working, but no one turns out to vote, in which case, not no one but you know, maybe maybe people are so fed up with the candidates that are running or whatever, that they decide, it's not even worth my time to turn out to vote. In which case, I would say the results of the election might be questioned in terms of its validity, because only 20% of the population that was able to vote turned out, and so the question is, what does that mean for representation of the 80% that didn't turn out. But that doesn't really mean that the institutions themselves are low quality, right, that there's something else going on in the system that's keeping people from voting. Obviously, if there were institutional roadblocks that were keeping people from voting that would, that would speak to the quality of the election. But I think just low voter turnout on its own, it might undermine faith in the election, or faith in representation by political leaders, but it's not something fundamentally wrong with the institutions themselves. I think on the flip side, where you have countries where the elections are just clearly fraudulent, they're not meant to actually produce a fair result, they're simply there because the autocrat feels they need to hold elections, because that gives them some sort of like, you know, goodies from the international community if they hold an election, you know, but they're just dumping ballots, and they're reporting that they got 96% of the vote right there, it's not actually something that is being truly conducted, right. In which case, you'd also potentially have skepticism of that outcome, or you definitely would, but it would actually speak to the institutions themselves not being, the institutions themselves being low quality, or, you know, just purely there as window dressing and not trying to actually produce the results. So those are sort of two different settings. And I think they would require two different approaches from international actors to try to improve democracy in those countries.

Leslie Johns 43:33

Okay, thank you. So one of our guests, has written in saying that he has served as an election monitor for the OSCE, that's, I believe, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, most recently in Kazakhstan, and that, based on his experiences, notices that there's oftentimes conflict or perhaps tension between different election monitoring groups, and that, that that his impression is that the OSCE is sometimes perceived as legitimizing authoritarian elections, because they are oftentimes sort of the perception that they're viewed as working in a constructive manner with autocrats and that they're they're viewed as not necessarily being as critical as they should be, trying more to engage with autocrats. And so our guest writes: "what are some ways to help elevate the voices of civil society observation groups, who often face much more intimidation and harassment than international observers?"—I assumed like the OSCE—"and whose conclusions and documented evidence of fraud is brushed away by international groups." I was wondering, and maybe you could help the rest of the guests in the audience to help, is your perception the same as the guest's perception? Is there oftentimes tension amongst different election monitoring groups about the best ways to engage with autocrats? Different strategies, perhaps about what to publicize and what not to publicize in terms of evidence of fraud?

Sarah Bush 45:28

Yes, yes. So, you know, I think in some cases, the quality of an election is fairly unanimously viewed, at least in terms of the overall picture by a variety of international and domestic groups. That's something that we saw in the 2014 election in Tunisia, although there are nuances and you know, some differences of information and perspective, across groups, by and large, everyone domestic and international, according to our research, agreed that that was a high quality election, especially for a country that was holding its first regular election after writing a new constitution, and having experienced a revolution. But I think that Georgia is an example of a country where we have seen that, since it's a country that's operating, perhaps since is a country that's operating more in a gray zone between autocracy and democracy. You know, there, those are often the countries that even Experts disagree the most on in terms of how they should be evaluated. And so it does seem to be a setting where observers can take a different, you know, some of them are going to be more critical, and some of them are going to be less critical. And so, you know, I think that one thing when I was reading this question, I was thinking about is, you know, I think, definitely our findings affirmed the idea that the presence of international observers can legitimize flawed elections. You know, this is, it's not a given because it has, according to our research, the observers need to be perceived by the public as capable and unbiased, but if they are, they can have this positive effect merely by their presence, which I think, you know, some observers are quite worried about that, and will occasionally decline invitations to monitor elections, because they don't want to be there and be seen as giving it a thumbs up, just by being, you know, coming in. But then other observers are less selective about where they choose to monitor. My sense is, you know, the question also really is asking, how can we get election observers to, to be accurate? And research by Judith Kelly in particular, as well as others does document that they have biases, and, you know, for the, for various political and other reasons. And I mean, it seems to me that the really the only way that election observers matter is if people think that their information is credible and worth listening to, because they're not usually groups that are powerful in other ways. So they're powerful, because they're trustworthy. And so at least for groups, like, you know, the OSCE, which, you know, isn't, you know, whatever flaws it may have, it's not a full scale zombie election observer group, like some of the ones that I mentioned during the presentation, you know, so it, should it, we hope that if it's criticized loudly enough, it should, it should listen to that, you know, and upgrade its methods, because if if the information is not regarded as credible, then then the game is over, I would say. So I hope that I think that a way to to elevate these voices is, to the international community, is to make sure that the international observers are criticized if they're not listening to them.

Leslie Johns 49:25

Okay. I don't know if you'll feel comfortable asking this question or if it lies within your expertise, but I'll go ahead and ask it. What kind of legislation can countries write to help combat foreign meddling in elections? One of our guests has written in asking about some EU laws that are seeking to regulate foreign media platforms and digital economies. Are there ways to regulate platforms like Facebook to try to prevent things like Cambridge Analytica and disruptive technologies from overly influencing elections? A couple of guests wrote in asking about various aspects of that. Do you guys feel like that lies within your expertise area?

Lauren Prather 50:20

I think that for meddling, in particular, there are lots of different ways that a country can try to influence an election and social media or media influence campaigns is just one method. It probably is simultaneously the lowest cost method for the meddler, but also the most difficult to regulate. So it is a really challenging form of meddling and one that I think states and multilateral organizations are just beginning to try to figure out how to combat. So I would say in addition to some of the stuff that was mentioned in that, that question about, you know, how to hold a social media companies accountable, what kinds of legislation we could pass to regulate social media more, I think there's also a significant amount of effort going into just building literacy and digital literacy among citizens. So that they, you know, there's two ways right. You can try to stop it at its source, and you can also try to educate the public to be able to spot these kinds of influence campaigns. And, and I think both strategies have to be employed, deployed, because we, we're not sure what's going to work quite yet. But I do know, there are some political scientists that are working on building up the capacity among citizens to spot misinformation and combat misinformation. So it's not just about regulation, but it's also about education. So I think those are, that's the response that I'm sort of interested in following. I would also note, just in terms of foreign influence campaigns, again, social media is kind of low hanging fruit, but there's also more sophisticated methods of directing money to candidates and campaigns. So I know, for example, a lot of the efforts behind making campaign financing more transparent. Those kinds of regulatory changes can also help to combat meddling because they, by making the sources of campaign funds more transparent, we can hope to illuminate if any of those, that funding is coming from foreign sources. And then similarly, increasing the penalties, increasing the capacity to detect when candidates or parties may be cooperating with foreign actors, that's also something building up intelligence capacity to try to understand that those are also types of interventions that could be could be successful. And then obviously, as infrastructure becomes more digital, this is also a concern. So in speaking with some practitioners, there is some concern in some developing countries, that the technology being used, you know, digital voting machines or electronic voting machines, what countries are producing those machines? Is it China? Is it the is it the United States that are producing the actual literal voting machines? There's worry that actors could seek to influence elections in that way? So I think also paying attention to the actual infrastructure itself is going to be really important going forward to to combat foreign influence.

Leslie Johns 53:59

Okay. And I think just, we have time for one last question, and this is I think, I'm gonna give it to one guest, I think asked a really important question, which is that, you know, both in this talk, as well as within the international community, we spend a lot of time and resources focusing on election day, you know. Resources in the sense of flying election monitors across the world to be there and to pay attention, but it seems like a particularly in in autocracies, a lot of machinations go into the build up to election day in terms of determining who has the right to vote, who is a citizen, who is registered to vote, who has access to run on the ballot, where polling locations are located, all of those types of things. So should we perhaps be broadening out conception of what an election is or what we should be observing or how we think about elections taking place, in terms of how we think about, you know, the way, the way democracy works, and the way we think about ensuring that, that the governments are accountable to people? Yeah.

Sarah Bush 55:22

Yes, yes. I mean, I really agree with the question that democracy means a lot more than elections, and autocrats, given the spread of election monitoring and pressure, or you know, norm to have observers present, they find, have found new ways to cheat and some of these new ways to cheat are very damaging to governance. I think that this is something and I see the the person who asked the question has, you know, firsthand experience with this. So, you know, it'd be interested to hear what he thinks here. But, you know, my sense is that high quality observers are well aware of the problem and increasingly, part of what it means to have a good capacity to detect fraud is that observers are not just there for a long time in the country, but may also be able to, you know, analyze the law, electoral laws of the country to understand the institution, institutional environment. And, you know, when you read the election observer reports, you know, to one of the other questioners, you know, are these publicly available? From credible monitors they are. You know, it's you can go online and look at the OSCE's monitoring report that is very lengthy about the midterm elections in the US, for example, and I just did that with my students. It's very interesting. You know, in it, it's, it's mostly not about what happened on election day, it's about the overall electoral environment. And so I think that this is something that that observers, you know, can and should do. I'm not sure that I think that it's, you know, even if cheating goes on, and all of these other ways, it seems to me still important from the perspective of public trust to also be looking about, you know, traditional aspects of voting or vote counting or tabulation. Because I think those are things that a lot of the public is concerned about. But, like, certainly, I think observers are have adapted and will continue to adapt in response to adaptation of autocrats.

Leslie Johns 57:45

Okay, well, thank you so much to everyone attending today.

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