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Department of Political Affairs

Types of Assistance

United Nations electoral assistance is provided based on the principle that there is no universal model; programs are tailored according to the specific needs of each requesting Member State. Although considerable international attention has been given to elections conducted in the context of UN peacekeeping missions or other post-conflict settings, most electoral assistance activities take the form of small scale technical assistance.

  • Technical assistance covers a wide range of short and long term expertise provided to national authorities in charge of administering elections in their country. Advice and support are provided in all sectors of electoral administration. The range of technical assistance provided by the United Nations has expanded as its experience has grown and as Member States requests have become more sophisticated and specific. Technical assistance can be provided in areas such as electoral administration and planning, review of electoral laws and regulations, electoral dispute resolution, boundary delimitation, voter registration, election budgeting, logistics, procurement of election materials, use of technologies, training of election officials, voter and civic education, voting and counting operations, election security and coordination of international donor assistance.
  • Election observation and other assessments respond to requests for the United Nations to assess or even validate the integrity of an electoral process. Such mandates are inherently political, and thus always based on a decision by the Security Council or the General Assembly. These mandates are rare. They can be an additional tool for national actors to overcome a confidence crisis in an electoral process, and provide interested UN organs with an assessment of the process for their future deliberations. Definitions have evolved, but for instance, mandates for "observation", “verification” or “supervision” were given frequently to the UN in the early days of UN electoral assistance, particularly in accompanying decolonization processes. More recently the UN has been asked to "certify" electoral processes in some countries. In other cases a small UN "expert monitoring" team may be sent to a country to monitor the electoral process and issue an internal report to the Secretary-General on its conduct.
  • Organization or Supervision of Elections. In rare cases, the United Nations may be fully in charge of organizing elections of a Member State. This occurred in Cambodia (1992-1993) and Timor-Leste (2001-2002). In other rare cases, United Nations experts form part of the national electoral administration itself: the responsibility is shared between the Member State and the UN. This was the case in Afghanistan in 2004-2005, and Iraq in 2005. These cases remain exceptions taken in certain transitional settings. As a rule, the United Nations takes a supporting role, to assist the national electoral administration.