Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

EU election observers follow an established methodology which focuses on a comprehensive analysis of all stages of an election process - the political and legal context, the campaign environment, the media coverage, the level of preparation of the election management body, the voting, counting, tabulation and the complaints and appeals process. The analysis is carried out by direct observation, which involves meeting political, electoral, civil society, media and other stakeholders and observing as much of the process as possible. For example, this includes attending campaign rallies and observing the training of polling station staff. Broadly, election observers will focus on the following aspects of an election:

  1. Political context
  2. Legal framework
  3. Election administration
  4. Voter registration
  5. Party and candidate registration
  6. Election campaign
  7. Media
  8. Complaints and appeals
  9. Human rights (including participation of women and minorities)
  10. Role of civil society
  11. Election Day
  12. Results and the post-election environment

There are four categories of observers who work on the team of an EU Election Observation Mission:

  1. Core Team experts: experts specialising in a particular area, e.g. Electoral Analyst; Legal Analyst, Media Analyst, Political Expert etc. Applications for these positions are made directly in response to a call for applicants from the European Commission. Notices with full details of selection criteria are posted here with regular updates when new missions are announced. In order to apply for a Core Team position, you have to have a proven background in a specialised relevant field and several years of experience. For example, Core Team experts often have experience working in the field of technical assistance for elections. The Core Team coordinates the work of the Long and Short-Term Observers around the country and consolidates their reports and observations into a Preliminary Statement and Final Report of the mission’s findings. The duration of their responsibility is usually around two months and they are the first to arrive in a mission, approximately six weeks before Election Day.

  2. Long-Term Observers (LTOs):  LTOs are deployed in international teams of two to a special area of responsibility where they carry out an assessment of the same broad range of issues as above, but with a focus on their particular regional context, ensuring that the mission covers electoral dynamics across the whole country. They are responsible for preparing and managing the deployment of Short-Term Observers in their area for expanded mission coverage on Election Day. Each LTO team produces weekly and ad hoc reports on the situation in their area which are sent to the Core Team to be included as observations in the mission’s main reports and findings. LTOs are the EU mission’s ambassadors in the regions and the highest standards are expected of them in terms of their professional and personal conduct. LTOs are usually in the country for about six weeks, arriving three to four weeks before Election Day.

  3. Short-Term Observers (LTOs): STOs are deployed in international teams of two to a special area of responsibility, where they will work under the supervision of their LTO team. STOs arrive shortly before Election Day and depart soon after it. They are usually in the country for around 10-12 days, arriving about six days before Election Day. Therefore their focus is on observing the immediate election environment, the implementation of voting and counting procedures and the tabulation and publication of results. STOs use forms which have been developed by the Core Team as the basis for conducting their observations in polling stations and tabulation centres on Election Day. When they arrive in the country, they will be briefed by the Core Team on the electoral and political context, as well as in how to understand and fill out the forms. When they arrive in their area of responsibility, STOs will also receive a briefing from their LTO team on the local situation, as well as advice on devising their plan for Election Day for observing, and the consolidation and transmission of the forms.

  4. Locally-recruited Short-Term Observers (LSTOs): Often the mission will be joined closer to Election Day by a small number of diplomatic staff from the EU delegation, EU Member State embassies and possibly EU EOM partner country embassies (Canada, Norway and Switzerland). They will be like Short-Term Observers, but as they are locally based, they normally join the mission to observe on Election Day and are present for the briefing and debriefing sessions.

Election experience: It certainly helps to have some kind of experience in election observation either as an observer for the ODIHR/OSCE, or other international missions like the Carter Center, the Organization for American States, the Commonwealth etc. Perhaps you have election experience in your own country, as a polling station official or election commissioner? Maybe you have been on an election observation mission to another country organised by a non-governmental organisation or by a government ministry?

Ideally, it would be great if you had some experience helping with the administration of an election, especially abroad, as part of an electoral technical assistance project, such as those run by the United Nations Development Programme. Have you thought of applying for a post as a UN Volunteer? This is an excellent way to get experience in the field of elections.

Ask yourself, what do I have to offer a country going through an electoral process? What experience in democratic development and political understanding can I bring?

Team work skills: We cannot stress this enough: you have to be the kind of person who likes working in teams! You must be prepared to work hard on making sure the team functions well throughout the mission. Observers always work in teams of two. It is very unlikely that you will know the person you are going to be partnered with prior to your deployment. Your ability to connect quickly and work well with others of different backgrounds, ages and cultures, will be vital to the quality of your input to the mission. If you are the kind of person who prefers to work alone, this is not the kind of job for you.

Language skills: Make sure that you can speak and write the mission language fluently. Do not think you will manage once you get there. It places an extra burden on your partner, who will have to do all the talking and writing for the team. Ensure you speak the mission language well enough to do your job.

Reporting skills: If you want to be a Long-Term Observer, you have to be very good at summarising and analysing information. You may have anything from 15 to 30 meetings per week, which have to be consolidated and summarised into weekly reports of five pages and ad hoc reports of one page. Your ability to write succinctly and to be able to analyse the situation (election, political, media, campaign etc) will be your main contribution to the quality of the mission. It is also very important to how your performance as an observer will be evaluated. If you know you cannot write well, work on it: take a course before you apply to join a mission.

Official EU observer selection criteria:

  1. Previous experience of election monitoring and/or other relevant experience or know-how and specific training, national and/or international;
  2. good experience of working languages of EU EOMs (either English, French, or Spanish or a combination of those languages);
  3. interpersonal skills (e.g. capacity of balanced judgment, ability to work in teams, ability to cope with difficult situations, respect for local attitudes, good communication skills, readiness to work in a multicultural environment);
  4. ability to maintain professional independence and strict impartiality in the conduct of duties in the host country;
  5. demonstrated commitment to democracy and human rights;
  6. EU Member State citizenship;
  7. familiarity and experience with electoral laws and procedures (including inter alia electoral rolls, national electoral committees), not limited to a single electoral tradition;
  8. special knowledge of human rights and democratisation issues;
  9. basic knowledge of institutional aspects of the EU;
  10. analytical and drafting skills.

You don't necessarily need any. Some Member State Focal Points organise courses for new Short-Term Observers (STOs): check with yours whether they offer a course. You can find your Focal Points contact details here. We recommend writing them a short, polite email, rather than phoning. If they have a website, make sure you read it carefully before contacting them with requests for information which is already available online.

STOs get a briefing from the Core Team when they arrive in the country, explaining the electoral and political context. The experts will go through the observation forms in detail and show you how to fill them in. Once deployed to your area of responsibility, you will also get a briefing from your Long-Term Observer team on the regional context of the place where you will be observing.

You are observing whether certain procedures are followed and filling out forms to that effect. You do not need a lot of technical training for that, but you do need to have an understanding of the electoral procedures and your role in the process.

As an STO, you are not there to judge, you are not an inspector and you should be conscious of the fact that your presence might make polling officials anxious and voters curious: be as polite and unobtrusive as you can be. The important thing is to observe, without getting in the way.

Firstly, training is good but it is not mandatory. Many people become Long-Term Observers (LTOs) without having specialist training beforehand. If you meet the mission's selection requirements in terms of language, professional background and Short-Term Observation experience, then nothing should prevent you from applying to be an LTO.

The EU funds observer training through the Election Observation and Democracy Support Project. EODS carries out training for LTOs and Core Team experts on a regular basis and you can check the website for upcoming opportunities. LTO training candidates are selected from a pool proposed by the Focal Points, so you have to get your Focal Point to select you first. It helps if you fulfil the training selection criteria and if your Focal Point rates you and has ranked you high in their selection. There is a lot of competition for places. Each EODS LTO training event is for 16 candidates, but there are 28 Member States and each one can propose up to three candidates. Inevitably, some qualified candidates will be disappointed. If at first you do not succeed, try again. With a bit of luck and persistence, you can make it.

So, you would like to become an election observer but the selection criteria say you need election observation experience in order to be selected as an observer.

We know it seems impossible, but do not despair. If you fulfil all the other criteria the EU seems to be looking for and you are sure you would be good at it but you don't have any experience yet, you can still apply.

For almost every election observation mission, the EU invites the Member State Focal Points to propose a small proportion of completely new candidates without former observation experience. Think about it:– if this did not happen, nobody could ever have got a job working as an election observer! Of course, the number of completely new observers is a small proportion of the whole: it is important to demonstrate to the host country that the mission is experienced. However, a certain number of places are set aside to allow new people to get some experience in the field.

If you are totally new to observation, you need to be in touch with your Focal Point and ask them to put you forward for future missions. It is good to be proactive by checking the EC's website where they announce calls for candidates: this tells you that they will soon be looking for observers for a particular country. If you speak the mission language and are available during the timeframe, contact your Focal Point to ask them to suggest you as a candidate.

Competition for these new observer spots on a mission might be fairly stiff. That is why it is good to be politely persistent and make sure you alert your Focal Point to the fact you are aware of the mission and are ready and willing to be deployed. Do not expect them to contact you. They have other responsibilities apart from selecting observers and there are plenty of people asking for their attention.

Getting selected for the first time takes a bit of patience, luck and persistence, but it is worth the effort!

In the meantime, prepare yourself by reading up on the EU EOM methodology. You can read the Handbook for European Union Election Observation in English, French or Spanish, downloadable free from our website here. On our publication page you will find lots of other reading material to help you get ready for your first mission.

Long-Term Observers receive a small fee plus expenses for the duration of the mission. Short-Term Observers do not receive a fee but they do have their expenses covered. Details of fees and per diem expense rates will be provided to you when you apply.

If you are selected, you will receive a notification from the European Commission. Afterwards, the mission’s service provider will contact you by email to provide you with information on your travel and accommodation.

Why having election observation missions?

Countries invite international election observers for a variety of reasons but often because they welcome the chance to demonstrate that the electoral process is open and transparent. Election observation missions take account of the situation before, during and after Election Day. Election observation is not an end in itself: its aim is to help improve the quality of democracy in the future through post-election dialogue with the country and recommendations on improving the legal and practical side of the election process.

You should be conscious of the fact that not all elections are held in a peaceful environment and you should be aware of where to go, how to behave and what to expect.

The team

Chief Observer (CO): Overall responsibility, present at regular intervals throughout the mission
Deputy Chief Observer (DCO): Manager of the mission, always present (runs the observation)
Core Team Experts: Media, Legal, Election, Political/Country, Observation Data Analyst, Human Rights/Gender
Observer Coordinator: Coordinates both Long-Term Observers (LTOs) and Short-Term Observers (STOs) and processes reports and evaluations
Long-Term Observer (LTO): Your immediate supervisor
Implementing Partner (IP) / Service Provider (SP): Responsible for security, logistics, IT, finance (either IOM, UNDP, GTZ, ICON-Institute, Transtec)
Liaison Officer (LO): An IP/SP contact person in the field, responsible for local operational and security issues in your Area of Responsibility (AOR)

How to prepare yourself?

The best book to prepare yourself for EU observation is the Handbook for European Union Election Observation. You should also prepare yourself specifically for the country you are going to as much as you can in advance by reading available literature and going online. Your foreign ministry may have its own country guidelines online and there are many other Internet resources, such as Google, Google Earth, france24the world factbook or lonelyplanet. Prepare yourself for the mission. When you apply, get to know the political context of the country, geographical issues and medical warnings. You could be told when you are still at home where you will be deployed to, but if not, long sleeves are better than short sleeves, trousers not shorts, long skirts not short etc. Consider that even if the weather conditions will be hot, you could sometimes be in air-conditioned environments and might need something warm. Some countries have drastically different temperatures and atmospheric conditions: if this is the case do your best to find out where you are going but if you cannot, prepare for every eventuality.

Although you will be provided with some first aid gear, it is a good idea to prepare yourself a kit containing medicine to combat digestive problems and food poisoning. Take the pain killers you usually use as you are unlikely to find your brand there, and consider bringing some paracetamol which can also relieve fever symptoms. If there will be mosquitoes, make sure to bring repellent sprays and if there is the possibility of malaria make sure you get your doctor to prescribe you anti-malarial prophylaxis. Check whether your vaccinations are correct for the country and up to date; ask your physician for advice on this. You can also ask at a good pharmacy.

You will be given a visibility kit when you arrive in country which contains tops, shirts, hats and jackets displaying the mission logo, so leave some space in your suitcase. Bring a ballpoint pen, a clipboard and a calculator.

What happens when you get off the airplane?

You will notice that experienced observers will quickly find the right conveyor belt, a luggage trolley if needed and the right exit. You will be met by EU EOM staff and the Observer Coordinator at the airport, but it is possible that there will be media and journalists as well. Make sure you are properly attired and behaving sensibly, you do not want to contribute to a bad impression on the evening news or the next days papers.

If you organise yourself well, you could make it more quickly into the hotel lobby. Tip: if you are first to put your bags on the bus, you will have to wait until all the bags are out before you get yours back. If you can get in to the hotel reception more quickly, you are more likely to get a room you want, either a single or sharing with someone you know.

Once you arrive at the lobby there might be a table with the following days schedule on it. Take it when you have time - after finishing at the reception desk. Make sure you understand when to be where and at what time, and get an early night. The next two days will be very demanding and require a fresh mind. Briefings often take place in hotel conference rooms with air conditioning and no windows. There is usually a lot of material and information that has to be digested.


Even if your mission is to the Sahara desert, the air conditioned briefing room might be chilly. If someone has a cold it can quickly do the rounds. Plan ahead - have a jacket or a scarf to put around your shoulders. Bring a bag with you because you will be given a lot of documents. Try to eat healthily during the breaks, if not you could feel tired afterwards. And start immediately with the first rule of the mission: wash it or peel it! Don't take alcoholic drinks during the briefing breaks and try hard not to fall asleep or to start chatting with your neighbour while one of the mission or invited experts is delivering the briefing. Why? You will miss valuable information and you will give a bad first impression of yourself, especially if your behaviour is noticed by invited guests. Your behaviour is the basis upon which most people will judge the professionalism of the mission. It is also true that the first mission evaluation of you is done during the briefing so make sure you are at your professional best.


If you are familiar with satphones, satellite internet connections, mobile phones and VHS Radios, you have a strength to add to your team. If not, try to find out whether or not your partner is familiar with all this equipment. If not, be very attentive and ask questions until you understand. It will not be regarded as foolish or as a sign of your ignorance. It is a sign of your responsibility. Your LTO will test your knowledge before sending you to your assignment.

Your Area of Responsibility (AoR) and your partner

Your AoR may not be the place you hoped to be deployed, but do not try to change your destination. Unless there are extraordinary reasons (like an unforeseen medical condition), you will not succeed in changing your deployment but you may succeed in irritating the Observer Coordinator at a very busy moment. The deployment plan takes the Core Team a lot of hard work and thought and takes into consideration many factors that you may not be aware of. So bear that in mind and make the best of it. If you like your partner, enjoy the mission and look forward to working together. If you feel you have been landed with the worst possible teammate, give him or her a chance. Think of it as your responsibility to try to get along, even if they are difficult. By being persistently kind, you should be able to make the situation bearable, and if not exactly fun, at least establish cordial working relations. Do not try to get the Coordinator to give you a new partner. As a Short-Term Observer, you only have to survive a few days with your partner, so be as positive as you can and you will get through it. You may make a good friend for life.

LTO, the first contact

Once you arrive in your province or region by airplane, train, boat or car, your Long-Term Observers are waiting for you. They will welcome you and hand out your personal briefing pack, including specific details and updates about your AoR. They have worked hard to prepare the ground for your mission, please be respectful of this. The LTOs will evaluate you individually and the first contact is important. Stick to the time frames and appointments they have made for you. Do not be hasty to criticise the hotel they chose for you, it will probably be the best available one and there is a reason why it has been selected even if it is not immediately clear to you.

Your staff

A number one cause of STOs feeling annoyed is problems with staff. It might be the driver, if he has no feeling for the car, it could be the interpreter who has terrible problems in understanding you. The interpreter is selected either by the LTOs or the Implementing Partner/Service Provider staff and they should have mission language skills as well as local language abilities. But they may be nervous, need the job to finance their studies or lives and they could have problems adjusting to your accent, which could be hard to understand. You may have to adjust your expectations if they are too high. Your ability to adapt is a key quality that will help you to be a good STO. Help your staff to feel comfortable and give them a chance. If you realise that they simply cannot do the translation job at all though, contact your LTO and ask for a replacement if possible. You are highly dependent on reliable translation.

As for your driver, try to involve him as much as appropriate. Ask him to do small tasks, e.g. to listen to a local radio station in order to pass on the news or developments in your region, stocking up on water, newspapers, fresh fruit etc. Make them feel an important part of the team. Inform them from the start on agreed rules like defensive driving, seatbelts on, first aid kit on board, car check every day, tail-in parking, logbook up to date etc. Keeping the team together is your responsibility. Treat your staff with respect and consideration and make time for breaks.

How to dress?

"Why are international election observers so badly dressed?" Quote from an African Union representative

Dress smartly! It may be fashionable where you come from to wear vintage clothes and jeans with holes but in many countries distressed clothing means you have made no effort and do not respect your hosts. As an EU observer, you are a kind of ambassador for the EU and your country. If you want to be taken seriously, respect your interlocutors and their culture as much as you can. Avoid T-shirts (especially sleeveless), jeans, combat trousers, short skirts, short dresses and similar casual styles that will make you look like a tourist.

Your accommodation

A friendly, cheerful and respectful person is a respected one. A respected person has a good chance of being warned if there is trouble. Receptionists, waiters, cleaning staff etc are also, in a certain way, an extension of your team. Encourage them and praise their good work. Your LTO team will have chosen your hotel and the floor cautiously, but here are just some reminders of common sense hotel booking. Always if possible: do not stay on the first two floors (people may throw things into your room), check fire exits, have a window in your room (nothing is more depressing than staring at a wall or not having fresh air), have a view to the main road or hotel front (you may notice crowds early), have a functioning bath or shower and a proper door with a lock. In case the lock is damaged, ask for replacement. Even if you have to pay for this, it might be really worth your while.

Leave your belongings in your suitcase and lock it. Take your flight ticket, passport, money and credit cards with you. You may opt to buy one of those travel bags that you can wear on your body under a top. In case you have to work in a volatile environment, you will be asked to have a 15 kg safety bag always with you. Inside that bag pack you should have toiletries, medicine you have to take, your money, flight ticket, passport, credit cards and enough clothing for two days.


You are strongly advised not to bring expensive camera equipment with you. For one thing, it can be stolen, and for another, it contributes to making you look like a tourist. Be careful about how and when you take pictures: be sensible about it, and be sensitive to the local environment and how the people feel about having pictures taken. If people like it and are pleased then it is fine, but do no’t assume in advance that it is okay, without finding out first. Before you take pictures of people, always ask for permission. In many countries it is strictly forbidden to take photos of military personnel, military machinery, battle fields, military barracks or official buildings and factories and other strategically important points. Do you know which picture is of a strategically important place? Quite often you may not. It might be what you think is a harmless photo of the landscape, you simply do not know. STOs have been detained by the police and accused of spying for ignoring warning signs not to take photos. Bear this in mind and use some common sense. In case of doubt, please ask your mission Security Expert for advice before going to the field.

Where are you from?

This is a common question and often asked. Conversation is very important for your interlocutors and they will show an interest in you as a person. First, you should always take time for your interlocutors, relax the atmosphere before you start with your questions. Do not be too hasty to push your own agenda because you are in a hurry. If you get to know the person, you may find out more. Some of your interlocutors will have never heard of the EU, take the time to explain. Think, in advance, about how you will explain questions like 'What is the European Union?' A union of 28 member states in Europe (like Germany, France, Luxembourg etc. - give concrete examples, it helps people understand) with shared laws and values including respect for fundamental freedoms like freedom of movement etc. You will have a fact sheet in your documents that you receive from the mission. Take the time to read it and to recall some facts. It is always a good idea to have some copies with you in order to distribute them to the interlocutors. Some people may know something about your country: what do people usually know about it? Be ready to talk about some of these things in a nice, relaxed way. Expect them to know more about your country than you may think.

Your task

You are deployed, in teams of two, to observe polling day and the early counting of ballots. Long-Term Observers report regularly and have prepared your observation task in your location area.

STOs will observe, assess and report on the following aspects of the electoral process:

  1. election environment, including the atmosphere over the election day period, and whether there are instances of intimidation, restrictions on freedom of movement, or other problems;

  2. implementation of voting procedures, including compliance with national laws, whether the right to vote and the right to a secret ballot are enjoyed in practice, and whether polling officials act in an impartial manner;

  3. implementation of the procedures for the counting of votes, including compliance with national laws, whether the votes are counted promptly, accurately and honestly, counting officials act in an impartial manner, and the process is transparent; and

  4. tabulation and publication of results, including whether there is a transparent, accurate and prompt transfer, tabulation and publication of results, and whether there are problems with the wider post-election environment. Each STO team completes report forms that contain checklists for the evaluation of voting, counting, and tabulation procedures. These are returned to the EU EOM headquarters for statistical analysis. In addition, STOs provide narrative reports and regular updates to their designated LTO team. This is especially important where an STO team observes serious irregularities or problematic events.

This latter section was taken from the Handbook for European Union Election Observation. If you want to improve your election observation knowledge, take a look at this and other important publications.


You will be evaluated as a team. Your evaluation is important for further election observation appointments. But more importantly, you are representing the European Union, your country and yourself. Familiarise yourself with the EU EOM Code of Conduct and make sure to adhere to it strictly.

EU EOM Code of Conduct

  1. Observers will respect the laws of the land. They enjoy no special immunities as international observers, unless the host country so provides.
  2. Observers will participate in all pre-election briefings with their supervising officers.
  3. Observers will be subject to the direction and management of the observer team leadership, carrying out their written terms of reference and covering the geographical schedules specified by team leaders.
  4. Observers should be aware of the presence of other electoral observation groups, and liaise with them under the direction of the EU EOM leadership.
  5. Observers will carry with them prescribed identification issued by the host government or election management body, and will identify themselves to any interested authority upon request.
  6. Observers will maintain strict impartiality in the conduct of their duties, and shall at no time express any bias or preference in relation to national authorities, parties, candidates, or with reference to any issues in contention in the election process.
  7. Observers will not display or wear any partisan symbols, colours or banners.
  8. Observers will undertake their duties in an unobtrusive manner, and will not disrupt or interfere with the election process, polling day procedures, or the vote count.
  9. Observers may bring irregularities to the attention of the election officials, but will not give instructions or countermand decisions of the election officials.
  10. Observers will base all conclusions on well documented, factual, and verifiable evidence, and will keep a record of the polling stations and other relevant places that they visit.
  11. Observers will refrain from making any personal or premature comments about their observations to the media or any other interested persons, but should provide, through a designated liaison officer or spokesperson, general information about the nature of their activities as observers.
  12. Observers will participate in post-election de-briefings with their supervising officers and will contribute fully towards EU reports on the elections being observed.
  13. Observers must comply with all national laws and regulations. Where these limit freedom of assembly or movement about the country, they must note where such rules prevent them from carrying out their duties.
  14. At all times during the mission, including during private time away from work, each election observer should behave blamelessly, exercise sound judgement, and observe the highest level of personal discretion.