The Democratic Election Standards project aims to build consensus on obligations for democratic elections and on detailed criteria for assessment.

An initiative of The Carter Center’s Democracy Program, the Democratic Election Standards (DES) project is currently focused on advancing the evolution of standards for democratic elections and increasing shared knowledge on election integrity, election observation, and democracy promotion.

In doing so, the initiative:

  • uses a framework of obligations derived from public international law;
  • collaborates with the international elections community; and
  • develops practical tools for observers to assess elections.

The DES project is now entering its fourth phase of programming. There is still a need for more and better international law on elections, and for better implementation of the recommendations made by election observers and human rights mechanisms. As a result, this phase of activities concentrates on:

  • Increasing coordination between the international elections community and human rights mechanisms through the Human Rights and Election Standards initiative;
  • Providing capacity-building on international obligations to civil society groups;
  • Collaborating with the academic community to build consensus on common indicators for election quality;
  • Measuring the impact of election observation; and
  • Maintaining and developing shared knowledge on observation methodology.


The Democratic Election Standards project began in 2003. Since then, its specific objectives have evolved to address the key challenges confronting the field of election observation. The DES project’s activities and achievements include the following:

Phase I (2003-2005)

The Center collaborated with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (UNEAD) to build consensus among international election observation organizations on the guiding principles for observation. This process resulted in the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and accompanying Code of Conduct.

Phase II (2006-2010)

The Declaration of Principles focused on general guidelines for observation and did not address the standards against which observers should assess elections. The Center led efforts following its endorsement to build consensus among international election observation organizations on using public international law sources as the basis for assessment criteria, and developed a series of useful tools for observers.

Phase III (2011-2015)

The Center worked to disseminate its DES tools to a wider audience, providing capacity-building for citizen observation organizations, electoral management bodies, and other election stakeholders interested in the human rights underpinnings of election quality.

Phase IV (2015-2018)

The Center will work to advance the evolution of election standards and increase the use of shared knowledge on election integrity, election observation, and democracy promotion. This includes a variety of activities including the Human Rights and Election Standards initiative; and increased collaboration with U.N. mechanisms.

Tunisia Constituent Assembly
A woman casts her vote in Tunisia’s 2011 Constituent Assembly elections.


For more information about the Carter Center’s Democracy Program, please contact Avery Davis-Roberts.

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Get Involved

The Carter Center’s Democracy Program is regularly looking to fill volunteer and consultant positions.  To learn more about opportunities to get involved with the program (including participating in an election observation mission), please visit Opportunities with the Democracy Program.

Special Thanks

The Democratic Election Standards project’s generous supporters include:

  • Mr. and Mrs. Shawn M. Aebi
  • Mr. and Mrs. Gaby Ajram/Ajram Family Foundation
  • Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development — Canada
  • Dr. Peter B. Danzig and Ms. Lava Thomas
  • Mr. Carroll J. Haas, Sr./Carroll J. Haas Foundation
  • John C. and Karyl Kay Hughes Foundation
  • Government of Ireland/Irish Aid
  • Mr. and Mrs. Thomas E. Koenig and family
  • Mr. and Mrs. Lembhard G. Howell
  • Mr. Michael Nelson and Ms. Louise Durocher
  • Mr. Steven E. Nothern
  • Ms. Cherida C. Smith
  • Mr. and Mrs. James N. Stanard
  • The Willow Springs Foundation