Canadian political scientist visiting ANU to study electoral system

Thursday 5 October 2017


Endeavour Research Fellow Dr Holly Ann Garnett has been fascinated by political science and elections since childhood.

A postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, Dr Garnett is currently a visiting scholar at the ANU School of Politics and International Relations as part of her Endeavour scholarship. While in Canberra, she’ll be studying Australia’s national elections body. Her research areas include electoral integrity and civic literacy. Dr Garnett will present her research at ANU in November.

Follow Dr Garnett on Twitter @HollyAnnGarnett

What was the hook that got you interested in the political sciences?

I have had a keen interest in politics since I was ten years old, when we studied civics in school during a provincial election. I became very interested elections and politics from that point onward.  I served as a legislative page in the provincial legislature when I was thirteen, worked on my first local election campaign when I was fifteen, and took my first political science class in first year of my undergraduate degree.

Why did you decide to specialise in areas such as election integrity?

Elections are a key component of democratic life. They are some of the largest mobilizations of the population and particularly exciting political events! I became interested in issues of electoral integrity and the technical administration of elections during my Master’s degree, when I was studying a referendum on electoral reform in my province in Canada. The election management body (the government agency that runs elections) faced the enormous task of educating the public on this unfamiliar and very technical question of electoral systems. Their work was crucial to the entire operation of allowing citizens a voice in how their elections should be run. However, election management bodies receive considerably less attention than candidates and campaigns, so I decided to further pursue this area of study in my doctoral research. Through this work on election management, I have been able to contribute to a growing body of research and community of scholars focusing on issues of the quality of elections throughout the electoral cycle – from the registration of voters, to the counting of ballots. My work in this field has been greatly influenced by Professor Pippa Norris (University of Sydney and Harvard University), director of the Electoral Integrity Project, where I was a researcher in Sydney in 2014.

Why did you apply for an Endeavour Scholarship, and come to ANU?

A part of my doctoral research focused on the capacity of election management bodies to effectively run elections. However, there is a great deal of variation in the ability of countries to effectively manage elections around the globe. We often think of elections failing because of deliberate manipulation, but sometimes elections can fail simply because of technical mistakes, incompetence, or a lack of resources or personnel. This led me to ask: how can election management capacity be strengthened? What role does the international community play in assisting developing countries or new democracies in strengthening their electoral capacity?

One obvious case to study is the work of the Australian Election Commission. Since the mid-1990s, the Australian Election Commission has engaged in bilateral election assistance programmes as part of its international electoral services mandate. These programmes are aimed at improving the quality of elections in more than a dozen countries in Asia and Africa, by enhancing the capacity of election administrators to perform their essential functions, including voter registration, education, and polling, through on-the-ground support personnel and training. In fact, Australia is one of the few countries that has an international service component to the government-issued mandate of their election management body. So, my research here in Australia will be examining the question: when are technical electoral assistance programmes most effective?

The Australian National University is the logical place to study this question, being located in the heart of the Australian government in Canberra. ANU is recognised as one of the leading political science departments in the world, and my supervisor Professor Ian McAllister is regarded as one of the top international scholars on elections. So ANU was the perfect fit!

What have you been researching while here? 

In addition to my work on electoral assistance and capacity-building, I have a number of other projects on the go, considering other aspects of the electoral cycle where the integrity of elections can be challenged, including voter registration, campaign finance and civic literacy.

Have there been any highlights during your time in Canberra?

I have been in Canberra now a little over a month, so I still have so much more to experience! I’m particularly fond of the Australian Parliament House, especially taking the elevator up to the roof and literally ‘standing on top of parliament’! I’ll be going back there a few more times before I leave Canberra!

Would you recommend the Endeavour Scholarship to others?

The Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships are available to both Australians looking to go abroad, as well as those outside of Australia to come to Australia for study or research. It is a very generous funding scheme and provides for flights, health insurance, an establishment allowance and a monthly stipend. I would certainly recommend it to others who are interested in doing research in Australia, or for Australian students or researchers looking to go aboard.

Learn more about the ANU Bachelor of Political Science at Australia’s top ranked politics and international relations school, and download the School’s handbook.

Updated:  14 December, 2017/Responsible Officer:  College Dean/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications