Assessing the Complex Evolution of Norms: The Rise of International Election Monitoring

Posted: 14 Sep 2007 Last revised: 4 Jan 2009

Date Written: 2008


Given that states have long considered elections a purely domestic matter, the dramatic growth of international election monitoring in the 1990s was remarkable. Why did states allow international organizations and NGOs to interfere and why did international election monitoring spread so quickly? Why did election monitoring become institutionalized in so many organizations? Perhaps most puzzling, why do countries invite monitors and nevertheless cheat? This article develops a rigorous method for investigating the causal mechanisms underlying the rise of election monitoring, and "norm cascades" more generally. The evolution and spread of norms, like many other social processes, are complex combinations of normative, instrumental, and other constraints and causes of action. The rise of election monitoring has been driven by an interaction of instrumentalism, emergent norms, and fundamental power shifts in the international system. By dissecting this larger theoretical complexity into specific sub-claims that can be empirically investigated, this article examines the role of each of these causal factors, their mutual tensions, and their interactive contributions to the evolution of election monitoring.

Keywords: evolution of norms, elections, election monitoring, democratization, democracy, norms cascades, qualitative methods, transnational actors, intergovernmental organizations, legitimacy, sovereignty

Suggested Citation

Kelley, Judith Green, Assessing the Complex Evolution of Norms: The Rise of International Election Monitoring (2008). International Organization, Vol. 62, No. 2, pp. 221-255, Available at SSRN:

Judith Green Kelley (Contact Author)

Duke University ( email )

Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

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