Registering the Party for the Election

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1. Rules and regulations
2. Registering as a party or for the election?
3. Nominating candidates
4. Useful links, documents and legislation

Registering the Party for the electionJust as it is important to determine from the outset the type of election in which you will be running, and the rules governing it (‘first past the post’, proportional representation, etc. – see Alan Wall’s Electoral Systems Briefing Paper), it is equally important that the party takes the steps necessary to ensure that its name, logo and candidates actually appear on the ballot papers on election day. If, ultimately, you do not manage or are unable to register your party for the election, all other aspects of preparing the campaign or running the campaign – no matter how well organised or professionally carried out – will of course have been in vain.

A diversity of rules and regulations
There can be ‘no democracy without pluralism’, as the Council of Europe regularly puts it. Political parties are recognised as integral actors of democratic societies, and their very existence is provided for and safeguarded by the ‘freedom of assembly’ (Article 11), in conjunction with the ‘freedom of expression’ (Article 10), inscribed in the European Convention on Human Rights. Yet beyond this shared understanding of political pluralism as one of the underlying principles of our democracies, specific approaches to regulating political parties vary quite significantly across the different member states of the European Union, and across Europe more generally. Electoral legislation and laws on political parties are almost always different from one country to the next. European decisions and national rules on elections to the European Parliament add a further layer of complexity to the electoral landscape.

It is important to distinguish between registering a political party as an association (i.e. founding a political party), on the one hand, and registering a political party for an election (ballot access), on the other. In certain instances, this distinction should be considered primarily as a conceptual tool, since the diversity of legal texts and requirements means that, in practice, things are not always straightforward. For example, it may be that, as in Germany and Greece, there are no provisions requiring registration for the establishment of a political party, or that, as in the Netherlands, such registration is not mandatory but procures certain advantages. It may even be that the procedural requirements are identical for both types of registration, but that the legal framework differentiates between them.

Nonetheless, whatever the precise circumstances or conditions applicable in a given member state, the two types of registration serve different purposes – despite the fact that the criteria on which they are based frequently overlap (see part 2).

Registering as a political party
Establishing a political party and, when necessary or possible, registering it as such, is usually a relatively simple procedure that, amongst other things, gives the party a legal status, and protects a name and a logo. However, in those countries where registered political parties have access to public funding, and benefit from public broadcasting rights or other public forms of support, the registration requirements are commonly stricter.

Registering for the election
Registering for an election is a confirmation of a party’s or candidate’s intention to take part in a specific election. And it is not unusual for legislation to impose further specific requirements on parties (that is, in addition to those sometimes foreseen for their establishment, and which are principally related to the party’s identity, political programme, statutes, organisational structure, members or sources of funding). These generally centre around three criteria:

  • Popular support. Parties have to provide a list of members or supporters, accompanied by their signatures, addresses, or other means by which they can be identified (such as the voter’s identification number). The requisite number is of course variable. In Germany, for example, “a party which has not been continuously represented by at least five representatives in the Bundestag or in a Landtag [state parliament]” must obtain the handwritten signatures of at least 200 people eligible to vote in the constituency. In Spain, political parties must supply the signatures of one percent of the constituency’s registered voters.
  • Geographical coverage. The party must be able to prove that it is present in a certain number of regions. Such evidence often takes the form of a list of members or supporting signatures from these regions.
  • Economic viability. Parties are frequently required to pay a registration fee, which can vary from modest administrative costs to far higher sums. This measure generally aims to discourage smaller and less serious independent candidates and parties, but should not prevent legitimate ones fram taking part. Sometimes, a monetary deposit has to be made, which is then reimbursed, depending on the election results (at least two per cent of the valid votes cast in Slovakia, for example). This is particularly commonplace in countries where parties have to re-register for every election they want to compete in. In the Czech Republic, each “political party, movement or coalition” can only present a candidate list if it has settled the “statutory contribution to election expenses” of CZK 15,000.

Nominating candidates
The nomination of candidates is the official procedure by which political parties or individuals propose candidates for an election (although in certain states, including Bulgaria, Latvia and Slovakia, only parties are allowed to participate in elections). In list systems, each political party agrees and organises its list of candidates; in ‘first past the post’ constituencies, the candidates are designated individually.

The rules according to which the nominations take place are generally fixed by the parties themselves. But they can also be supplemented or dictated by national legislation. The French Constitution (Articles 3 and 4), for example, was amended in 1999, and a law adopted the following year, to promote the equal access for men and women to elected positions; political parties have since then been obliged to put forward lists with the same number of male and female candidates in municipal, legislative and European elections. (The counter-example is Sweden: despite enjoying the world’s second highest percentage of female parliamentarians (46.4 per cent in the outgoing Riksdag [2010]), the legal framework does not regulate women’s representation, with gender equality quotas established voluntarily by many political parties.)

Care and common sense
Of course, the responsible election management body should make known the conditions and registration requirements (including deadlines) long before the election, and remain in close contact with the parties and/or candidates that wish to register. But there is no substitute for being well-prepared and well-informed. As is obvious from the brief overview above of the procedures and requirements, as well as from the various examples cited, there can be no single step-by-step guide to registering the party for an election. The most important piece of advice is simply, but crucially, to consult the electoral law, contact the electoral commission in your country, and review the regulations applicable to the specific election (local, regional, national, European) for which the party is preparing.

Please feel free to send in comments supplementing the information below (helpful links, legal documents, etc.), or with descriptions of how the registration process works in your country, or any experiences or examples (positive or negative) you’d like to share.

Useful links:
ACE Electoral Knowledge Network – an ‘online knowledge repository’ with a range of election news, comparative data, legal documents, analytical texts, and advice.
IDEA – The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an international organisation specialised in electoral and constitution building processes, political parties, and democracy development. See also its publication International Electoral Standards: Guidelines for reviewing the legal framework of elections.

Reports by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission (the European Commission for Democracy through Law):
Code of Good Practice in the field of Political Parties (2009)
– The Participation of Political Parties in Elections (2006)
Legislation on Political Parties (2004)
– Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters (2002)
– The Financing of Political Parties (2001)
– Prohibition and Dissolution of Political Parties (2000)

And a pick of pertinent legal texts from across Europe (selected, in part, from a longer, but not exhaustive list, available on the ACE website here):

Federal Law on the Election of the National Council (1992)

Czech Republic:
Act of Law on Elections to the Parliament of the Czech Republic
Act of Law on Association in Political Parties and Political Movements

Riigikogu (Parliament) Election Act as amended on 7 June 2006

Federal Elections Act (BWG)
Law on Political Parties

Acts on Local Government Election Registration (1994)
Act C of 1997 on Electoral Procedure, last modified on 6 May 2010
Act XXXIV of 1989 on the Election of Members of Parliament, last modified on 14 April 2009

The Saeima Election Law as amended on 31 May 2007

Law on Funding of Political Parties and Political Campaigns, and Control of Funding, last amended on 10 June 2008
Law on Elections to the Seimas, last amended on 18 May 2010

Presidential Elections Law and Complementary Information (2006)

Law 67/2004 for the election of local public administration authorities (2004)
Law No. 35 of 13 March 2008 for the election to the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate (2008)

Election Law Article 14 on Pre-Election Campaign
Law on Elections to the National Council

– Electoral Law, Ley Orgánica 5/1985, de 19 de junio, del Régimen Electoral General (Spanish)

Elections Act (2005)

United Kingdom:
Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000

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