The Commonwealth has been observing electoral processes for over four decades. In that time, more than 160 elections have been observed in 40 countries.
Our approach is rooted in the 'Revised Guidelines for the Conduct of Election Observation in Member Countries', adopted at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in 2018.
International best practice
These are based on the 1991 'Guidelines for the Establishment of Commonwealth Groups to Observe Elections in Member Countries' but updated to reflect changes to international best practice.
The Commonwealth was one of the original signatories to the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation (DoP), agreed at the UN in 2005 to ensure the professionalism and credibility of the field.
There are now more than 50 endorsing organisations, which meet every year to ensure that the Principles remain relevant and are implemented. The Commonwealth hosted the first DoP meeting in 2006 and convened another meeting in 2018.
Commonwealth Observer Groups (COGs) are independent and autonomous and will normally be chaired by a former Head of Government or senior political figure. They are composed of eminent persons from a range of fields, including:
- electoral commissioners
- legal experts
- gender experts
- human rights experts
- media experts
Most COGs will also have a youth representative. Members are drawn from all regions of the Commonwealth and are appointed in their individual capacities. All missions are supported by a small team from the Secretariat.
COGs are given a mandate to observe and consider the factors affecting the credibility of the electoral process as a whole.
Observers judge whether the elections have been conducted according to the standards for democratic elections to which the country has committed itself, including national legislation and relevant regional, Commonwealth and international commitments.
Each COG is constituted by the Secretary-General following an invitation or welcome from a country’s election commission or government.
The COG arrives in the country ahead of polling day and meets with a broad range of stakeholders, including:
- the electoral commission
- major political parties
- civil society groups
Observers are then deployed in teams across the country, where they assess:
- pre-election environment
- results processes
An interim assessment is issued shortly after the vote. Observers then compile the final report, which is submitted to the Secretary-General and subsequently shared with the country’s electoral stakeholders and made public.
Election Observation at 40
In 2020 we commemorated 40 years of election observation through an events series reflecting on lessons learnt and how the methodology and international election observation community has evolved. We also looked ahead to future challenges and opportunities in the field of elections.
View our thematic timelines: