By Azugbene Solomon

One of the most critical ways that individuals can influence governmental decision-making is through voting.

Voting is a formal expression of preference for a candidate for office or for a proposed resolution of an issue. Voting generally takes place in the context of a large-scale national or regional election, however, local and small-scale community elections can be just as critical to individual participation in government.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, recognizes the integral role that transparent and open elections play in ensuring the fundamental right to participatory government. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 21 states:

  • Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
  • Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
  • The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Your Rights is at Stake
Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is the key international guarantee of voting rights and free elections, but its provisions are strongly related to other articles, specifically Article 2 (see below). The ICCPR also includes guarantees of freedom of expression (Article 19), assembly (Article 21), association (Article 22), and non-discrimination (Article

AFRICAN UNION (Formerly Organization of African Unity)
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981)
Article 13(1) of the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides that every citizen shall have the right to participate freely in their government.

Protection and Service Agencies
Free and fair elections play a critical role in ensuring voting rights. International and regional governmental groups, along with non-governmental organizations, work around the world to observe and monitor human rights related to elections processes. Several international and regional documents have outlined international standards for elections.

According to the United Nations committee, Article 25’s mandates should be considered in light of the following:

  • Protecting the right of every citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the right to vote and to be elected.
  • The right of peoples to self-determination.
  • Protecting the rights of every citizen.
  • Any restrictions on voting should be based on objective and reasonable criteria
  • The constitution and other laws should establish the allocation of powers and the means by which individual citizensexercise the right to participate in the conduct of public affairs.
  • Political participation is supported by ensuring freedom of expression, assembly and association.
  • The right to vote in elections and referenda must be established by law.
  • Positive measures should be taken by the government to overcome specific difficulties, such as illiteracy, language barriers, poverty, or impediments to freedom of movement that prevent persons entitled to vote from exercising their rights effectively.
  • Persons entitled to vote have a free choice of candidates.
  • Conditions relating to nomination dates, fees or deposits should be reasonable and not discriminatory.
  • Elections must be conducted fairly and freely on a periodic basis within a framework of laws guaranteeing the effective exercise of voting rights.

The United Nations helps to conducts elections and monitors activities around the world, primarily in fragile democracies of in post-war and nation-building contexts. For example, the UN and OSCE were heavily involved in election monitoring in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they provided training for election monitors and provided police support on election day. UN monitoring activities depend on the needs evident in the particular national context, but can include all of the following:

  • the pre-election preparations and campaign period
  • the electoral administration
  • the registration
  • voter education and information
  • the media
  • the vote
  • the count
  • the results and follow-up.

The Rights to Vote: University of Minnesota Human Rights Center


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