Today, Egyptians are voting in an historic presidential election. It’s the first competitive presidential vote in the country’s history, and election monitors from organizations like the Carter Center are there to ensure the integrity of the process. There’s obviously some risk involved—the monitors may, in fact, find evidence of vote-tampering. Why do countries agree to have international observers inspect domestic political events?
According to one paper, states agree to allow monitoring because they have a “desire for legitimacy.” The market for monitoring emerges where the monitors’ desire for information intersects with a regime’s need for an implicit conferral of legitimacy. (Refusing access to monitors only suggests that a country has something to hide.) Unsurprisingly, the need to appear legitimate means that a “shadow market” of pseudo-monitoring has emerged. It involves work done by organizations that are “systematically less critical than other observer groups,” which allows less-transparent regimes to claim that their elections have been subjected to sufficient oversight. That doesn’t seem to be happening in Egypt—many of the monitors operating there are from widely-respected organizations. But even so, there are other worrying signs: Only a week ago, representatives from respected monitoring groups complained that the Egyptian government was restricting their work.