My first Democracy Day as NDI president

On September 4, I became NDI's third president. I do so with humility, at a time when democracy around the world faces its most serious challenge in memory. While the United Nations' theme for this year's International Day of Democracy is "democracy under strain," let us honor the day not just by reflecting on challenges but also how far we’ve come.

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Citizen Centered: Designing technology solutions for democracy at NDI

It’s amazing what humanity can do with the right tools. If you’ve ever looked up the work of Marshall McLuhan, he talks about how even the basic things we create change our outlook on life, politics and society. He’s also often attributed to having said, "We shape our tools and, thereafter our tools shape us…". The light bulb, for example, changed what time of day we can commune with each other.

I have been developing and designing software for close to twenty years. Since joining NDI, I’ve been thinking about the tools we build and how those tools, in turn, shape the lives of beneficiaries around the world. Human-centered design is the process of designing technology with and around the humans who use it. This process is analogous to building a bridge to connect two worlds. Just like civil engineers, practitioners of human-centered design at NDI must connect technology to the needs of citizens.

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All for One: Building Information Integrity into Elections

Drawing by Jesper Frant

Elections are one of the most critical elements of any democratic system, but also one of the moments where democracy is most vulnerable. Politicians compete to take control of the executive, become representatives in legislatures and sometimes appoint judges across branches of government, and the information environment plays a crucial role in the debates that decide who will represent the will of the people. This environment is increasingly mediated by the internet, through social media platforms, messaging apps, email and a wealth of new tools and applications that come online every day. Unfortunately, this new online environment is also increasingly polluted by disinformation.

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A Once in a Generation Opportunity - LGBTI Rights in the Western Balkans and Turkey

Representatives from NDI staff and the NDI Equal Voices Advisory Council with the Equal Rights Association co-Executive Directors Dragana Todorović and Amarildo Fecanji.

 

“This is a once in a generation opportunity,” declared Dragana Todorović, Executive Director of the LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey (ERA), during a recent meeting with NDI staff in Washington, DC. The “once in a generation opportunity” Dragana referenced alludes to a shared political entry point for most member groups: the chance to use the European Union (EU) integration process to advocate for greater LGBTI rights and inclusion at the national level. Leveraging this opportunity now could establish mechanisms and norms for LGBTI equality, such as national action plans – new or strengthened legislation and LGBTI CSO visibility in a mainstream political processes – that would have an enduring impact for years to come.

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To protect their democracy, Slovak youth gather in largest protests since the fall of communism

(Photo: Maros Kalina)

In recent weeks, Slovakia has experienced massive protests at a scale unseen since the fall of the communist regime in 1989. The protests have been organized throughout the country by young people in their early 20s, many of whom haven’t been engaged politically before. In fact, many of the youth now protesting were born into democracy and barely remember the fight against the authoritarian regime of the late 90s, let alone life under the Soviet-aligned government that came before it. The protests we are currently witnessing, initially fueled by the unprecedented murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, have already resulted in the resignation of the minister of interior and, later, of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s cabinet. While the protests triggered the resignations, civic unrest toward Fico’s cabinet already existed due to accusations of corruption and alleged mafia ties to political elites. However, Slovaks are now demanding Za slusne Slovensko – “Decency in Slovakia” – which means politics clean of corruption, mafia connections and attacks on journalists.

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Best DemWorks Posts of 2017

In its third year, DemWorks has solidified itself as one of the premier blogs on democratic development around the world. The number of visitors to the blog has expanded rapidly, with nearly 40 percent of the blog’s 186,702 unique visitors coming in 2017 alone. Our subscriber list has ballooned to upwards of 3,000 democracy lovers who have been gracious enough to let us into their inboxes (we know it can be a crowded place). Here’s our list of the most-read blog posts and series from 2017.

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Nigerian Disability Advocates Conduct First-Ever Election Accessibility Audits

IFA's Grace Jerry (left) discusses the audit checklist with another Access Nigeria observer during an election day deployment.

In Nigeria, there is a dearth of reliable data on the number of people with disabilities, let alone the challenges they face participating in elections. In its World Report on Disability, the World Health Organization estimates that 15 percent of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Based on this report, IFA approximates that there are 25 million Nigerians with disabilities.

For this reason, disability rights organization and NDI partner Inclusive Friends Association (IFA) audited polling unit accessibility during off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Edo (September 2016) and Ondo (November 2016) states, using a sample-based observation deployment methodology similar to parallel vote tabulation. The audits assessed the availability of handrails, ramps, braille or tactile ballots, written voting instructions and sign language interpreters. Armed with these newfound statistics, disability rights advocates such as IFA are now better equipped to make advocacy demands on decision makers to address barriers to the political participation for persons with disabilities in Nigeria.

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Support Democracy Around the World on #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving that follows widely recognized shopping events -- Black Friday and Cyber Monday -- to encourage people to also donate to non-profits.

Today is #GivingTuesday, a great opportunity to encourage support for our mission of working for democracy and making democracy work. Especially in these times, our mission has never been more critical. Your gift TODAY (Tuesday, November 28) will be MATCHED DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This match is only guaranteed for donations made via Facebook today.

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Disinformation: A New Challenge to Democracy or More of the Same?

Recent headlines on the role of Russian disinformation in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have ignited important policy discussions on the impact of information warfare on democratic systems. While disinformation is not new and has been used for years to turn the tides of policy in the favor of its perpetrators, developments with respect to social media, big data, and artificial intelligence mean that disinformation now poses a very different type of threat to democracy.

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NDI Changemaker: Through the Barbed-Wire Fence Toward Democracy

I grew up in the capital of what is now Slovakia, right on the river that borders Austria. I remember being near this very river, peering over to see what was on the other side. A barbed-wire fence sat between the two countries, a literal and figurative separation between democracy and the “Iron Curtain” that laid itself across Central and Eastern Europe at the time. The presence of the fence is something that I have since held in my mind; it was and continues to be a part of my daily reality - something continuously propelling me toward democracy.

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