Global Ethics Corner: When Are Elections Legitimate?

Jun 19, 2009

When are elections legitimate? What about Iran? Elections assume that losers accept results. Because many disagree, can they overturn an election? Should we believe authorities that declare elections valid?

When are elections legitimate? What about Iran?

Because many disagree, can they overturn an election? Should we believe an authority that declares an election valid?

In 1876, Hayes not Tilden, and in 2000, Bush not Gore, became Presidents in questionable circumstances. Controversy was extensive. However, both governed legitimately.

The 2002 Algerian election, won by the Islamist, National Liberation Front, was quickly overturned by the military under the belief that the Front was committed to "one person, one vote, only one time."

The 2008 Minnesota Senatorial contest may take a year to resolve. How?

Legitimacy rests on two interrelated ideas. One is transparency. Florida had legions from both sides looking at every hanging chad on every punched ballot. Openness is key to transforming autocratic decisions into legitimate results.

Another is process. A process must be agreed to by the players and perceived as fair through all four stages: candidate selection, campaign, voting, and appeals.

From outside, neither openness nor redress seems to apply in Iran.

What do you think? Should the Iranian losers reject the outcome? Did they lose? Is the Iranian election legitimate?

By William Vocke

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