Characteristics and Features Of Free And Fair Elections
An election may be free and not be fair. Similarly, it is possible to have a fair election which is not free by any standard. an election is free if the electorates are allowed to make their choice without been intimidated or victimized.
On the other hand, an election is said to be fair if the procedures for conducting the elections are made public and applied equally to all the parties without fear or favour.
What is Free And Fair Elections?
Features of Free And Fair Elections
Below are 14 most features of a free and fair election.
- Existence of Election Law
For there to be a free and fair election, there must be An electoral law which provides details about the electoral rules and indicates the people who have qualified to participate in the election and the roles of political parties and the electoral commission. The law should be clear and acceptable to all the parties otherwise it leaves the apps which can be exploited by politicians.
- Establishment of Electoral Commission
Both in its composition and conduct of elections, the electoral commission must be seen as an impartial arbiter in whom all the parties to the election can repose trust and confidence. Sadly, most developing are not too lucky in this respect.
- Secrecy of Voting
Their must be secret voting in a free and fair election. Secret voting is a process by which a voter votes for the candidate or candidates of his choice under complete secrecy. The voter alone knows a candidate he has voted for and he cannot be punished for his decision. This is the acceptable mode of voting in modern democratic state as public voting negates democratic principles.
- Absence of Violence, Intimidation and Victimization
The voter must be free to exercise his franchise without fear or favour, and the candidate’s right to vote and be voted for must not be impaired. Violence and intimidation may create a climate of fear and suspicion. Additionally, the electoral rules which outlaw political offences such as impersonation, thuggery, arson, intimidation, and victimization of voters and stealing of ballot boxes should be strictly enforced.
- Date of Election
Election should be held on Saturday or Sunday or ice on a public holiday to ensure maximum participation by voters.
- Location of Polling Stations
Polling stations should be sited in a place convenient to the houses of voters. In particular, they should be located in public places such as schools and stadia. On no account should polling booths be sited in churches, mosques or private houses where some voters may have no access to.
- Availability of Information on Location of Polling Booths
The voters should be informed in advance about the location of polling stations. The list of such polling booths should be displayed at the polling centres at least one week before the date of elections.
- Access of Parties to the Media
Political parties must be allowed to unfettered access to the public Media. In developing countries, the public Media such as television and newspapers are mainly controlled by government or are owned by people sympathetic to it.
- Frequency of Elections
Elections should not be too frequent as to overburden the voter or make him indifferent to the elections.
- Transparency in the Conduct of Elections
The conduct of elections including the voting, counting of votes and release of results must be transparent. The counting must be done in an open places in the presence of officials of political parties and the results published must tally with the poll. The result must reflect the true wishes of the people.
- Impartiality of Law Enforcement Agents
Unless the police and other law enforcement agents deployed the supervise elections demonstrate a high degree of integrity and impartiality, there can be no free and fair election. They should not be partisan when called upon to intervene. And on no account should the electoral commission accede to the militarization of the electoral process.
- Availability of Up-to-date Voters Register
An electoral register which contains the name of citizens qualified to vote should be posted at polling stations at least one week before the date of election. The voters should also be issued photo-bearing identity cards without which they must not vote. This is to prevent cases of impersonation and double-voting.
- Non-Restricted of Candidates For Election
There should be no restrictions whatsoever on the number of candidates who can contest an election. In short, the actual range of choice of the electorate should not be limited. Democratic States usually do not impose artificial limits on the number of candidates for a particular office. It is possible, however, as is the practice in many liberal democratic states, to have two or more candidates who may hold similar ideological views. In that case, the choice of the voters is as limited as when there is only one candidate.
- Enforcement of Electoral Law
The electoral laws must be strictly enforced to ensure free and fair elections. Offences against free and fair election such as bribery, intimidation, repeating votes and impersonation in the name of another person are generally prohibited by law in every country. The punishment for these offences varies from country to country and it may range from fines or imprisonment to disenfranchisement and the disqualification from holding public office for a long period of time.