Election Observation and Democracy Assistance: what is CEPPS?

CEPPS stands for the the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening; the members are the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES).

Although CEPPS has been functioning as a USAID master funding mechanism for Cooperative Agreements for Democracy Assistance since the early post-Cold War era in 1995, it is only more recently that it has started to take on a more public face as an entity as opposed to the three constituent organizations. (See the explanation from their branding strategists here (with the colorful image of a Masaii woman voting).

While I have no idea why this has evolved in recent times, I will note that building up CEPPS as an “entity” with its own brand could be seen from outside as a way to establish an alternative structure directly tied to USAID in competition with funding for democracy assistance through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

IRI and NDI are two of four core NED institutions. IRI and NDI were incorporated by the leaders of the Republican and Democratic National Committees respectively, pursuant to the legislation establishing the National Endowment for Democracy as private organization, with a bipartisan board and Congressionally-appropriated funding and subject to the Freedom of Information Act. (The other two NED core institutions are the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) affiliated with the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Solidarity Center affiliated with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations or AFL-CIO.)

IFES, on the other hand, which the branding material describes as a “core institution” of CEPPS, borrowing the NED terminology for the consortium members, is a more explicitly “private” entity created later in the Reagan Administration than NED in 1987 at the instance of then-USAID Director Peter McPherson as he describes in a 2017 interview on the IFES website. McPherson went to a American political campaign manager with a “bipartisan tone,” Cliff White (known publicly primarily for his role as Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign manager) to found the nonprofit because among the contractors USAID used there was a lack of technical expertise on the mechanics of organizing and holding elections. USAID provided an initial grant but IFES is not part of the Congressional mandate and annual budget appropriation process of NED and its four “core institutions” including IRI and NDI.

Readers will remember that IFES is a nonprofit corporation (like IRI and NDI) and was registered as such with the Kenyan government when President Kenyatta and his party leaders and government officials attacked IFES for not being registered as an “NGO” in late 2016 and early 2017 and allegedly being too cooperative with the opposition while managing the USAID election assistance and supporting the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Of course since IFES had been working on the same basis in essentially the same role with ECK since 2001 under Samuel Kivuitu’s Chairmanship and the IIEC and then IEBC under Issack Hassan, I saw this as pre-election “muscle flexing” by the incumbent President Kenyatta and his coalition directed at both the new Chebukati-led Independent Commission taking office in January to replace Hassan’s group after opposition protests and at IFES. The democracy donor diplomatic group led by US Ambassador Godec pushed back but Kenyatta’s Administration used its control of Immigration to force out the IFES Country Director and another key IFES employee. An outside replacement Country Director was “parachuted in” mid-March for the August 8 election.

See also “USAID is using a model for Kenya election assistance contracting that creates unnecessary conflicts of interest between organizations supporting election observation, voter education and embedded support to the Election Commission“.

Here is a discussion of USAID use of CEPPs from a review conducted by the Office of Inspector General for USAID focused on Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East released November 26, 2019, titled “Additional Actions Are Needed to Improve USAID’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Programs”:

CEPPS was founded in 1995 by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and holds a global Leader with Associate assistance award with the DRG Center to implement a variety of DRG activities, including political party assistance programs.

According to USAID officials, CEPPS received a series of global assistance awards from USAID for 1995 through 2020, which helped CEPPS partners develop a capacity to deliver political party assistance programming and establish a global footprint with a presence in every region in which USAID operates. The current global assistance mechanism was awarded in 2015 (a cooperative agreement) and provides missions the option to offer funding opportunities directly to CEPPS rather than develop a notice of funding opportunity locally.

Agency mission and headquarters personnel reported that, overall, CEPPS partners have excellent technical leadership and organizational experience to work collaboratively with host-country political leaders. CEPPS partners have developed strong work relationships with local stakeholders in many countries and are acknowledged as global leaders in the DRG sector. For example, in Ukraine, mission officials praised the NDI, IRI, and IFES Chiefs of Party as outstanding leaders who are highly accomplished and respected in their areas of expertise. They noted that the technical skills and positive reputations of these individuals are an asset for the mission and its DRG portfolio.

However, Agency officials also noted that missions often default to working with CEPPS partners through USAID’s global assistance award with the DRG Center—instead of pursuing opportunities to partner with other organizations that can provide similar services. Relying on CEPPS gives significant influence to a small group of partners to implement political party assistance programs and increases USAID’s reputational risk. Specific concerns reported to us by USAID officials include:

• NDI, IRI, and IFES have significant political connections and powerful benefactors on their boards of directors, including sitting Members of the U.S. Congress, former Ambassadors, and other political appointees. NDI and IRI in particular could be perceived as extensions of the U.S. Democratic and Republican Parties, respectively, by host-country stakeholders. For example, NDI’s website acknowledges that it has a “loose affiliation” with the U.S. Democratic Party and IRI’s current Chairman is a U.S. Senator in the Republican Party.

• In Georgia, CEPPS attempted to exclude a host-country democratic political party. In a 2017 letter to USAID/Georgia written on behalf of NDI and IRI, CEPPS stated that it would temporarily suspend assistance to a Georgian political party because of media reports of derogatory remarks made by party leaders about CEPPS partner staff, along with CEPPS’s disagreement with the party’s political platform and rhetoric. The mission responded to CEPPS’s letter by directing NDI and IRI to continue delivering assistance to the Georgian political party in compliance with USAID’s Political Party Assistance Policy.

In March 2017, before USAID started releases on my FOIA request on 2013 Kenya election, I called job of new IFES Country Director “the hardest in Kenya” and “probably impossible”

Read the whole post here:  The hardest job in Kenya . . .

. . . .

Realistically, the job looks impossible as structured, even if there had been adequate preparation time because of the conflicts of interest that USAID has built into the the role.  Compounding the problems from 2007 and 2013, USAID chose to select one entity to manage the inside technical support for the IEBC as per the IFES role since 2001 with the ECK/IIEC/IEBC, to provide voter education and also to lead election observation.  Thus IFES is wearing both “insider” and “outsider” hats at the same time, when the contradictory responsibilities of working with and observing the IEBC are both hugely challenging and vitally important.

Kenya 2013: Redacted reports to USAID suggest the problems with the IEBC acquisition of the Biometric Voter Registration system and the electronic Poll Books fed into the ultimate failure of the USAID-funded IFES Results Transmission System

Excerpts from the unredacted portions of the Quarterly Reports submitted by CEPPS, the Coalition for Political Party and Process Strengthening, to USAID, released to me last month per my 2015 FOIA request:

The overall goal of this program [USAID Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening or “KEPPS”] is to improve Kenya’s ability to hold free, fair and peaceful elections through support of the new electoral commission, political parties, civil society and media.

The reports show that key Objectives included to “Strengthen Election Management Body Capacity,” “Enhance Functionality of the Electronic Results Transmission System,” “Further the Transparency and Effectiveness of the Voter Registration Process,” and “Support Credible and Sustainable Monitoring and Observation Efforts”. Vast amounts of the material is redacted on the assertion of alleged FOIA exemption for confidential commercial information submitted by a private person. Redaction is so aggressive as to include in some instances blocking the entire list of Objectives, although the specific items listed above show up elsewhere.

The USAID program was originally funded for $18.5M from the Second Quarter of 2011 through the Second Quarter of 2014 (with another year and roughly $5M added through amendments). The original funding was split among the Consortium for Election and Political Process Strengthening parties: IFES $6M; IRI $1.5M; NDI $11M.

Future Activities:

[Redacted section]

*Assisting the IEBC in procurement of the Electronic Poll Books, specifically technical evaluation of the offers (This was planned for the current quarter but was delayed by IEBC).

*Guiding IEBC in development of procedures and training programs for voter registration workers (Also delayed by IEBC due to delays in procurement of BVR equipment).

*Providing a consultant to serve as assistant to the Chairman of IEBC during the absence of his Personal Assistant who has accepted a fellowship to continue his studies.

The tension among the Objectives involving imbedded support to the IEBC and support for credible monitoring and observation was apparent very early on in the Quarterly Reports.

Planning for the results transmission was derailed to a great extent by the repeated cycles of crisis with regard to the BVR procurement. Meetings scheduled with the IEBC to plan for a system were repeatedly cancelled as a fresh new crisis seemed to occur weekly and even daily.

The risk of failure of the electronic poll books procurement jeopardized the planned use of the poll books to enter results from each polling station, and may necessitate a return to mobile phones. In spite of the increased complexity of conducting elections with six [REDACTED Section].

Objective 5 [of USAID program]: Enhance the functionality of the electronic Results Transmission System.
* Specifications have been developed for using mobile phone handsets as a contingency in case the procurement for electronic poll books fails.

——-

Voter registration timelines announced by the IEBC lapsed repeatedly as a result of delays in the acquisition of BVR kits. Unable to settle on a vendor and a system at the end of August, the IEBC announced that it would instead revert to the manual register for the elections. However, the Cabinet exerted great pressure on the IEBC to retain the use of a BVR system and subsequently took over the tender process, negotiating directly with the Canadian Government for delivery of a BVR system …

The decision of the government to pressure IEBC to proceed with BVR, without regard for delays caused by this decision, and IEBC’s inability to resist that pressure has created a high-risk schedule with no room for slippage in planning for March 4, 2013 elections.

At the same time, IFES was working on “Restoring the eroding levels of public confidence in the integrity and competence of the IEBC” and “Ensuring an efficient and transparent vote count and results transmission system”.

But was not the public ultimately correct to have declining confidence in the integrity and competence of the IEBC, both in the lead up to the vote, and in light of the ultimate failures with both the questionably acquired Poll Books and the Results Transmission System?

———–

Fourth Quarter of 2012:

The Results Transmission System (RTS) solution procurement process was commenced during this Quarter and an in-house RTS was developed and presented to the IEBC as a backup system [REDACTED Section].

Results Transmission: IFES has continued to collaborate closely with the IEBC in the creation of a fully working prototype of the overall Results Transmission System. IFES has also, with approval of the IEBC, agreed to procure a Results Transmission System (RTS) solution and procurement is underway.

———-

For an idea of what was being discussed publicly in the fall of 2012 (when election was originally scheduled) see, i.e.:

August 1, 2012: “Kenyan IEBC drops biometric voter registration after tender controversy“.

October 10, 2012: “Recent Kenya polling points to concern on voter registration, other issues“.

November 27, 2012: “Kenyan diaspora disenfranchised?; Kwamchetsi Makokha raises concern about voter education; IFES seeks consultant“.

The Page of all my posts from the Kenya 2013 election is here.

———-

Ultimately, the Results Transmission System failed in practice. While it was allegedly acquired and deployed with an expectation of reliable performance, it initially displayed unverified and uncertain information that shaped global media reporting of the expected outcome of the eventual vote totals, but was then shut down completely by IEBC Chairman Hassan on the alleged basis of failure due to system overload.

The IEBC went on to announce a final first-round win for the Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto ticket with 50.07 percent of the vote in spite of the lack of the electronic system specified in the Constitution and the lack of a demonstrable manual contingent system and the expelling of party agents and election observers from the national tally process, among other irregularities.

Although polling consistently predicted a runoff in the presidential race, the early broadcast showing numbers from the failed RTS with a large and steady margin with well over 50% for the UhuRuto ticket gave Kenyatta and Ruto and the IEBC substantial practical leverage in opposing civil society litigation (which I supported) seeking an injunction to stop Hassan and the IEBC from announcing results without addressing the RTS failure and shutdown.

This leverage carried over into the Supreme Court as Kenyatta and Ruto and the IEBC defended the alleged 50.07% margin. IFES, according to correspondence and reporting provided at least some support services to the IEBC in litigating alongside Kenyatta and Ruto against Odinga and Musyoka as the opposition candidates and a separate election challenge from civil society. So far as I know the role of IFES in acquiring the RTS with US funds did not come up in the litigation, or in the reports of Election Observers, either those supported by CEPPS under this USAID KEPPS program or otherwise.

Kenya High Court Nairobi AFRICOG lawyer Harun Ndubi press conference 2013 election

Malawi PVT released by MESN – presidential results consistent with MEC official results, but top two candidates’ ranges overlap

Malawi PVT results from the Malawi Electoral Support Network  shows:

• Dr. Lazarus Chakwera (MCP) between 32.8% and 37.4%;

• Dr. Saulous Klaus Chilima (UTM) between 18.8% and 21.4%;

• Professor John Eugene Chisi (UP) between 0.3% and 0.5%;

• Mr. Reverend Hadwick Kaliya (Independent) between 0.2% and 0.4%;

• Mr. Peter Dominic Sinosi Driver Kuwani (MMD) between 0.3% and 0.5%;

• Mr. Atepele Austin Muluzi (UDF) between 4.3% and 5.7%; and

• Mutharika between 36.4% and 40.8%.

The PVT estimates, listed above, are consistent with the MEC’s official presidential results and therefore, the PVT can independently verify that the official results for the presidential election as announced by MEC reflect ballots cast and counted at polling streams. While PVT does not provide evidence that the presidential results have been manipulated, the PVT results data cannot definitively determine the order for the two leading candidates because of the overlap in the estimated ranges.

Read the whole release here.

Malawi Election Commission announces incumbent win in a “squeaker” – waiting on PVT

With the incumbent announced as winning with a narrower margin and a total of less than 39% of the vote, with turnout over 75%, there will be questions and frustrations.

Since the election is so close, the PVT is likely to show either of the top two candidates as a possible winner, although it could be pretty interesting if it shows something different. Since it has been done for days presumably it was ready for release some time ago.

Here is what was released for the last election in 2014.

With Parliamentary results released by Malawi Election Commission, but final Presidential results announcement stayed, IFES works on security and conflict prevention

Update: It is worth looking carefully at the MESN Detailed Preliminary Statement from the PVT. In general it suggests the voting was well conducted. I would flag the seven percent of the sampled polling stations where the results were not posted. See the USAID-funded research paper from Posner and Osofu at UCLA I linked below for why they identify the lack of posting of results as one of their indicators of potential fraud. I have never seen any legitimate excuse for not posting the results at the polling station and it certainly seems fundamental to me. I would note that seven percent is, to my recollection, a much better performance than what the Carter Center observers were seeming in their Preliminary Statement in Kenya in 2013, although that was not structured as a “PVT” sample as such.

——

Malawi’s election results being delayed after vote forgery claims” Quartz Africa

Under the USAID Malawi Electoral Integrity Program with CEPPS (the Consortium for Electoral Party and Process Strengthening)–the program under which NDI is providing “technical support” to the Parallel Vote Tabulation discussed in my last post–IFES is doing the work it has described in an April 2019 summary for the continent here:

Malawi Through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS), IFES is supporting the 2019 tripartite elections under the “Malawi Electoral Integrity Program.” Particularly, IFES’ activities are focused on addressing electoral security through violence monitoring and incident reporting for more effective conflict mitigation and resolution, and by strengthening cooperation and information exchange between civil society, multiparty liaison committees and governmental electoral security actors, including the Malawi Election Commission (MEC). IFES will strengthen existing conflict mitigation and mediation platforms, support targeted interventions in areas identified as lhotspots, and raise public awareness about electoral violence, conflict mitigation and mediation tools available to the public. IFES will coordinate with the United Nations Development Programme on its “Malawi Electoral Cycle Support” program to build stronger linkages among the MEC and local stakeholders involved in conflict prevention.

CEPPS is a consortium among IRI, NDI and IFES which provides for a master funding arrangement between USAID and the group under which USAID then enters specific subsidiary agreements for individual programs such as the polling program in Kenya that funded Exit Polls through IRI for the 2005 and 2007 elections, or the Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening Program for 2011-15 which was led by the coalition with separate workshares for IFES, NDI and IRI, with NDI supporting the PVT through the domestic observation group ELOG (set up as a permanent successor to 2007’s KEDOF domestic observation group at the recommendation of the 2008 Kreigler Commission report).

As an example of a different permutation, for the 2017 election, USAID solicited proposals for agreements involving one overall organization, with sub-agreements for other workshare. In that case the program was awarded to IFES, with the IRI and NDI work (including the PVT piece) under subagreements with IFES rather than directly with USAID as I understand it (this is based on the USAID solicitation and award announcements; the agreement is not published).

I have not watched Malawi closely and do not have any idea of the specific contractual arrangements of the MEIP program for this year.

With the presidential results finalization delayed, this will put everyone under significant pressure and may involve some hard judgment calls. We will all have to hope for the best as far as both the election and any negative situations regarding violence or insecurity.

Update: as a bonus, here is a 2015 paper from Daniel Posner and George Ofosu of UCLA, “Domestic Election Observers and Electoral Fraud in Malawi’s 2014 Election“.

Abstract

We present findings from a field experiment that estimates the causal effect of domestic election observers on election day malfeasance and downstream aggregation fraud in Malawi’s 2014 general elections. Our analyses leverage the random assignment of election observers to 1,049 polling stations located in a nationally representative sample of 90 constituencies. Since these polling stations already had observers assigned by other domestic monitoring organizations, our results speak to the marginal impact on electoral fraud of having an additional observer. We find that polling stations to which an additional observer was deployed had systematically lower rates of turnout and overvoting, and fewer votes for the presidential candidate who ultimately won the election—all results consistent with the deterrence of electoral fraud by the presence of the additional observer. We also find that the presence of the additional observer increases the likelihood that election results are not publicly posted, and that the non-posting of results is associated with an increased likelihood of aggregation fraud on behalf of the winning party, which we measure by comparing polling station-level election tallies with the official results reported by the Malawi Electoral Commission. We interpret this finding as suggesting that the presence of the additional observers may have displaced fraud from election day to the aggregation phase, and that the non-posting of the results may have been part of a conscious strategy to mask these efforts.