30th Anniversary Conference and General Assembly meeting of the ACEEEO
Date: 28-30 September 2021, Bucharest, Romania
Topics: ‘Youth Participation' and 'Campaign and Party Finance'
The annual conference focuses on the following issues:
- practical aspects: the role of key stakeholders (e.g. EMBs, international organizations and election officials) highlighting best practices in terms of voter education and communications;
- theoretical questions: the role and justifiability of the constitutional framework (e.g. the age limit) and the general trends related to youth participation.
Campaign and Party Finance
- how money is spent during electoral campaigns;
- how campaign- and party finance are regulated;
- transparency as a key aspect of campaign- and party finance.
Permanent Electoral Authority of Romania
The Permanent Electoral Authority of Romania is an autonomous administrative institution with legal personality and general competence in electoral matters, which has the goal to ensure the proper organization and conduct of elections and referenda, as well as the transparency and control of the financing of political parties and electoral campaigns, in compliance with the Romanian Constitution, the domestic law and all relevant international and European standards.
The Permanent Electoral Authority carries out its activity in accordance with the principles of independence, impartiality, legality, transparency, efficiency, professionalism, responsibility, sustainability, predictability and legitimacy.
The Permanent Electoral Authority aims to fulfil the following missions:
- Guarantee the organization of periodic, free and fair electoral processes with efficient and transparent use of human, financial and economic resources;
- Ensure the correct and transparent financing of political parties and electoral campaigns;
- Implement an integrated electoral management;
- Ensure and constantly improve the legal and organizational framework of elections and referenda, both at national or local level, as well as the control of the financing of political parties, in accordance with the legal instruments of international law, the acquis communautaire and the constitutional provisions;
- Coordinate the unitary application, throughout the country, of the legal provisions in the electoral field and of the fulfilment of attributions and tasks by the other public authorities involved in the electoral processes;
- Educate the electorate and other participants to the elections;
- Ensure the external representation of the Romanian state, standing as its main vector of image in terms of the democratization status of Romania, measured by the exercise of electoral rights, equal opportunities in political competition and transparency in financing the activity of political parties and electoral campaigns.
The Association of European Election Officials, formerly the Association of Central and Eastern Election Officials, was established in 1991. It is a non-governmental organization, an alliance that is independent from political parties. The Association’s main objective is to provide assistance for holding free and fair elections. In order to achieve this mission, the Association supports the operation of permanent election commissions and offices and actively contributes to the establishment of legal standards regarding the requirements for democratic elections. The ACEEEO organizes different meeting points for election professionals – conferences and seminars – and provides professional assistance and guidance for those who require it. By 2021 the ACEEEO counts 25 member-countries and several member-NGOs and keeps good partnership relations with the different international organizations in the field of elections.
Zsolt Szolnoki - Secretary General
István Áhi - Program Manager
János Mécs - Project Manager
2021 is a milestone in the history of ACEEEO; this year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our foundation. This year the Annual Conference will be centered around two themes: Youth Participation, on the one hand, and Campaign- and Party Finance, on the other.
First, ACEEEO celebrates by looking forward to the future of democracy and elections – to the youth. Today’s first voters will shape tomorrow’s democracy, it is therefore paramount to understand how the youth think, what attitudes they have, and how their meaningful engagement in the more formal democratic processes might be increased. ACEEEO has been devoted to this topic in the past and dedicates its activities in 2021 mostly to this theme.
The Conference approaches this complex topic from multiple angles, focusing, on more practical aspects, such as the role of key stakeholders (e.g., EMBs, international organizations and election officials) highlighting best practices in terms of voter education communications, youth engagement and involvement. For youth involvement to increase it is crucial to reflect on the gap of understanding and usage of media platforms that is often present between key stakeholders and first voters. Therefore, those involved in communication with the youth will discuss questions, such as what the most effective style and platform of communications are, or what the biggest challenges, most effective best practices are, what resources are needed to engage in an effective youth outreach campaign and how these resources might be procured. Furthermore, theoretical questions should be discussed as well, such as the role and justifiability of the constitutional framework (e.g. the age limit) and the general trends related to youth participation, such as the apparent divide between youth participation in activism, involvement in informal democratic processes and youth participation in elections, which has been highlighted by the emergence of globe-spanning youth movements.
The Conference’s background assumption is that speaking about the youth is only fruitful if the youth themselves are included in the discussion, therefore young speakers will present, and the event will offer an opportunity to exchange experiences with young voters.
Second, the Conference deals with the topic of campaign- and party finance. In the modern political contest money and politics cannot be disentangled. The question how political actors receive funds, how they spend it, and how they need to report it is of utmost importance in any democracy. The Conference focuses on the question of how money is spent during electoral campaigns, either from dedicated campaign fund or from the general resources available to parties.
The Conference approaches the topic from a regulatory perspective as well; one key question from a comparative angle is how campaign- and party finance are regulated. Political parties may use various funds ranging from state subventions to micro-donations, but it often differs from country to country that from whom and in what amount parties and candidates may receive money. There is no single way to regulate money and politics, however, there are good practices to borrow, historical failures to avoid, and important trade-offs to recognize. Finally, a key aspect of campaign- and party finance is transparency. Different monitoring institutions, including state authorities and watchdogs from the civil society may help each other in protecting the integrity of the political process. Moreover, social media and the internet are both a challenge and an opportunity; they introduced new activities that should be regulated, however, they may also make the spending in the virtual space more transparent. These key stakeholders – state authorities, the civil society and companies – might learn from each other by exchanging best practices, as well as complement each other’s efforts, thus, providing equal opportunities in the competition and preventing malpractice.
Agenda and presentations
28 September 2021 (Tuesday)
General Assembly Meeting (for ACEEEO members)
Chair: Constantin-Florin Mitulețu-Buică, President of ACEEEO, President of the Permanent Electoral Authority of Romania
ACEEEO 30: Leader’s forum (roundtable discussion)
This year’s Annual Conference was special. This specialty showed itself on the one hand in the fact that two unique events were organized preceding the official professional program – the Leader’s Forum and the Honorary Club.
The Leader’s Forum was organized in order to strengthen the network of electoral officials and to facilitate a meaningful dialogue between the key stakeholders of the electoral sphere. The Forum was opened by Secretary General Zsolt Szolnoki, who was followed by representatives of international and regional organizations (see the list below on the participating organizations and representatives). The intervention touched upon the past 30 years with regard to the promotion of free and fair election, on the role of international organizations and their cooperation, and on the future of elections.
Moderator: Zsolt Szolnoki, Secretary General, ACEEEO
Leaders of International/Regional Organizations:
ACEEEO 30: The Honorary Club (moderated discussion with the Honorary Members of ACEEEO)
The Leader’s Forum was followed by the Honorary Club, an informal discussion between the honorary members of the organization, exchanging memories and recalling important moments of the ACEEEO. The Club was chaired by Paul DeGregorio (Honorary Member) ACEEEO, who described how ACEEEO affected his professional career and gave a toast on the 30th Anniversary of the organziation. The other participants, Ivilina Aleksieva-Robinson (Former Chairperson of the Central Electoral Commission of Bulgaria); Richard Soudriette (Former Chairman of IFES) and Iurie Ciocan (Former Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Moldova) who are all honorary members, also highlighted fond memories. The session proves that besides profound professional relationships real friendships and human bonds are concluded within the ACEEEO community.
29 September 2021 (Wednesday)
Official opening of conference and the exhibition
The Conference was opened by Constantin-Florin Mitulețu-Buică (President of ACEEEO, President of the Permanent Electoral Authority of Romania), ACEEEO Secretary General Zsolt Szolnoki, and by Anthony Banbury (President and CEO, IFES), who sent a dedicated video message to the participants of the Conference. Moreover, Ovidiu-Alexandru Oproaica, (General Manager of the Computerization of Electoral Processes Department, Permanent Electoral Authority of Romania) gave a presentation on IT solutions used in the electoral processes.
Roundtable Discussion I.
They vote for the first time, but not the last – General trends, Theoretical Considerations, Institutional Background of Youth Participation
One of the main themes of the Conference was Youth Participation, and the participants of Roundtable I discussed the general trends, theoretical considerations, institutional background of Youth Participation, with the moderation of Kristine Berzina (Chairperson, Central Election Commission of Latvia). The first speaker, Augusta Featherston (Associate Democratic Governance Officer and Youth Focal Point, OSCE/ODIHR) who emphasized the importance of involving the youth at the decision making process and investing in youth energy and vision that requires inter alia systematic change, independent young organizations, inclusive reform institutions (Speech of Ms. Featherston). She was followed by Erton Sinani (Director of Commissioner’s Cabinet, Central Election Commission of Albania) who shared experiences on education, information-sharing and raising awareness of voters for the 2021 parliamentary elections in Albania (Speech of Mr. Sinani). The third speaker, Slaven Hojski (Member, State Electoral Commission of the Republic of Croatia) who described how the Croatian state electoral commission approaches young voters with special considerations to the challenging times of epidemic. He was followed by Evegny Barkov (Business Development Manager, Polys) presenting on the E-voting study program from Kaspersky (Presentation of Mr. Barkov). The last speaker, Mohamed Mansour (Sales Director for EMEA, Smartmatic) emphasized the relationship between election technology and youth participation, arguing that online voting might increase voter turnout within the youth (Presentation of Mr. Mansour).
Discussing youth participation with young voters from around the ACEEEO region in a world café format
As we believe at ACEEEO that there cannot be any meaningful conversation about the youth without the youth, the Roundtable was followed by a Youth Inclusion panel, chaired by Dr. Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz (Director for Europe and Eurasia at IFES) involving youth from around the ACEEEO region (Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Romania). The young representatives addressed questions regarding young people’s attitude towards elections in their countries, on their personal experiences with elections as well as their personal attitudes, and on their views on how EMBs should communicate towards young voters.
Roundtable Discussion II.
Money and Politics – Trends and the most important changes in the last two decades related to campaign finance
Besides youth participation, a main theme of the annual conference was party- and campaign finance. Accordingly, Roundtable II, chaired by Dr. Irena Hadžiabdić (Member, Central Electoral Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina) tackled the question of money and politics, participants discussed trends and the most important changes in the last two decades related to campaign finance. The first speaker, Constantin-Florin Mitulețu-Buică (President of ACEEEO, President of the Permanent Electoral Authority of Romania) presented on how political party audit in Romania evolved through years, describing changes and how digital platforms were developed with relevant data on political party financing for better transparency (Presentation of Mr. Mitulețu-Buică). He was followed by Valbona Ballgjini (Director of Internal Audit and Monitoring of Party Finance, Central Election Commission of Albania), who emphasized that the Albanian constitution prescribes an obligation that finance resources and spending have to be made public, noting that political parties could lose funds for 5 years if they violate the law, and highlighting some good practices of CEC Albania to engage monitoring groups during campaign (Speech of Ms. Ballgjini). The third speaker, Lina Petronienė (Head of Political Parties and Political Campaigns Funding Control Unit of CEC of Lithuania) underlined importance of monitoring groups and cooperation of CEC Lithuania and different actors (Peresentation of Ms. Petroniene).
30 September 2021 (Thursday)
The last day of the conference was started with the workshops.
Workshop A – How to do it in practice? Voter Education and Communicating with the Youth
Workshop A, facilitated by Dr. Ádám Nagy (Associate Professor, Hungary) reverted around the topic of youth participation. During the interactive workshop the participants worked in groups and came up with policy proposals addressing pressing problems of youth participation. The online audience could vote for ideas to be elaborated further, and chose proposals related to civic education for children, communications and gamifications.
Workshop B – A Practical Guide to Campaign Finance and COVID-19
Workshop B run simultaneously, was led by Dr. Iurie Ciocan (Honorary Member, ACEEEO) and tackled the question of money and politics. The participants exchanged their views on the subject in an interactive format.
Lessons learned – Special Voting Arrangements in ACEEEO member states – Experiences of the past, Future of SVAs
Finally, a panel took place that focused on the lessons learned by organizing elections in the pandemic. Participants from the ACEEEO region as well as from the overseas presented country studies (for the list of speakers see below).
Moderator: Zsombor Vajda, Vice-President, Permanent Electoral Authority of Romania
Recapitulation speeches, conference findings. Official closing of the 30th Conference
Chair: Zsombor Vajda, Vice-President, Permanent Electoral Authority of Romania