Election Commissions and Democratic Decline

This paper considers the role that election commissions may play in facilitating or resisting democratic decline. Common across cases of decline are attempts by regimes to capture or eliminate independent institutions that have the capacity to check political power. Capture of the judiciary is a well-recognized tool of would-be authoritarians. This paper argues that similar incentives exist for regimes to capture independent election commissions. Capture of election commissions has been a relatively unstudied aspect of the story of democratic decline. The actions of these commissions may, and often do, determine the result of elections. Capturing election commissions is therefore a key tool for regimes seeking to consolidate power while keeping the legitimacy that comes from continued elections. This paper defines the phenomenon of election commission capture and theorizes about its role in democratic decline, drawing on cases such as Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and South Africa.