As a community of countries committed to democracy, the OSCE places great emphasis on promoting democratic elections.
The commitments agreed upon by all OSCE participating States in the 1990 Copenhagen Document, for example, emphasize fundamental principles that are central to a democratic tradition and can be summed up in seven key words: universal, equal, fair, secret, free, transparent, and accountable.
While these principles are often reflected among the formal electoral rights of citizens, this in itself is not enough; respective national authorities must demonstrate a commensurate level of political will to make elections genuinely democratic and meaningful.
ODIHR's reputation as Europe's leading agency in the field of election observation is built upon its systematic, comprehensive, and verifiable election observation methodology.
Based on the premise that an election is more than a one-day event, this methodology provides in-depth insight into all elements necessary for a democratic electoral process, including the legal and regulatory framework; the election administration; the election campaign, including the media environment; the complaints and appeals process; voting, counting, and tabulation; and the announcement of results.
This methodology was first developed nearly a decade ago; it has also served as a model for other international organizations. In recent years, ODIHR has adapted its methodology to permit a focused assessment on specific aspects of an electoral process, primarily in more-advanced democracies, through the deployment of election assessment missions.
The objectives of ODIHR's election observation activities are twofold: (1) to assess electoral processes in accordance with OSCE election-related commitments; and (2) to offer recommendations, where necessary, to bring electoral processes into line with those commitments.
It is important to highlight this second point, as the purpose of election observation is not simply to commend such countries that conduct their elections well or to criticize those countries that may fall short of meeting their commitments; rather, the purpose is to offer proactive and constructive input, whereby ODIHR not only calls attention to specific areas for possible improvement but also makes recommendations and provides assistance to rectify any shortcomings.