Putting Elections to Work for Accountability

Learn how elections can serve as opportunities to position citizens as informed, organized and active participants in policy making, in addition to allowing citizens to choose leaders.

Community members in Malawi
Community members in Malawi


Elections are a principal democratic process, although they alone do not guarantee citizen influence over policy making, the responsiveness of public officials, or their responsible use of state resources. Quality elections matter a great deal, but only insofar as they put citizens in the driver’s seat when it comes to steering the work of government. For this reason, elections should be treated as opportunities that not only allow citizens to choose leaders, but that can also begin to position citizens as informed, organized and active participants in policy making.

Thinking Strategically about Elections

Elections provide a viable entry point for individual and collective citizen participation. They offer a unique opportunity for citizen groups to raise policy issues, secure commitments from candidates, build relations with like-minded groups and individuals, mobilize activists, and increase visibility of their issue or cause.

Campaigns that succeed are those that focus on the power dynamics surrounding the issue being addressed. To influence those dynamics, campaigns require a strategy and a plan involving an iterative series of actions that might extend across the political cycle, including election periods.


Organizers show off campaign materials

NDI has helped civic partners around the world take advantage of elections as entry points that allow them to advocate for issues that are important to them. These resources provide examples of tools you can use for issue organizing around elections.