University of Sydney

By | on November 3, 2017 | 0 Comment


Holly Ann Garnett
Department of Political Science
McGill University
Supervised by Elisabeth Gidengil
Co-supervisor: Dietlind Stolle
Grant received in 2013-2014

Can you please tell us about your research?

My research looks at the relationship between election management bodies (EMBs) and electoral integrity. EMBs are the agencies and people that are tasked with the technical administration of elections. While certain essential elements remain common to nearly all EMBs, the design and conduct of EMBs around the world can vary greatly. I consider how the variations in EMB designs and practices, from online information, communication with citizens, transparency, centralization and voting provisions, can influence electoral intergrity.

Why did you choose to go to Sydney, Australia?

I chose to go to Sydney to work with the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP), a joint project of the University of Sydney and Harvard University, led by Professor Pippa Norris. The Electoral Integrity Project focuses on three major questions:

  • When do elections meet international standards of electoral integrity?
  • What happens when elections fail to do so?
  • What can be done to mitigate these problems?

As a student intern, I was part of a team of visiting and local scholars working on projects related to electoral integrity. Part of my role was to assist with research projects and events, including writing election summaries for the annual Year in Elections report, compiling election results, and providing logistical support for conferences. The other half of my time was spent developing my own research on electoral integrity.

How did you hear about the opportunity with the Electoral Integrity Project? 

My supervisor, Elisabeth Gidengil, informed me about the opportunity. There was a competitive application process for the program, and I was thankful to be selected alongside two graduate students from the European University Institute.

How did being in Sydney help you advance your research?

While I was in Sydney, I refined my research question to have a greater focus on electoral integrity. This term has gained traction during recent years as an indicator of the health of elections throughout the election cycle. EMBs are not only a part of this election cycle, but they also influence all other aspects of the cycle. In discussions with other scholars at the EIP, I identified some key problems relating to the study of EMBs in political science literature. In particular, I recognized that we lack a comprehensive way of measuring the design and functions of EMBs. Our weekly seminars, reading groups and conversations with my colleagues in Sydney fave me a chance to work through possible responses to this problem in my field. From these conversations, I decided to focus on information, communication and transparency and three key variables in the comparative study of EMBs. I was also able to take on a role with the American sub-national Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index, a dataset that asked experts to evaluate the 2014 midterm election within their state, so as to capture some of the variation between states in terms of electoral integrity. I will be using this sub-national data, as well as the broader cross-national Perceptions of Electoral Integrity in my dissertation. I also learned a fair amount about the theory behind and the administration of expert surveys, the tricky task of imputing data, and best practices for research dissemination from my colleagues in Sydney.

How is the Australian research environment different from what you were used to in Canada?

The team of scholars at the EIP was international. In fact, I shared an office with colleagues from Germany, Italy, Russia and Switzerland. The feedback and assistance that I received from these colleagues through our daily conversations were especially valuable. We also collaborated on some projects, such as organizing a Section on Electoral Integrity for the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) conference in Montreal. I appreciated the entire community of scholars in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. I have made some great contacts and friends who I would not have met otherwise.

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