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One of the major achievements in Latin America since the rapid expansion of democracy in the region beginning in the 1980s was the guarantee of free and fair elections, organized by competent and independent authorities. Though the region has long struggled to strengthen its democratic institutions, the reliability of elections, a democratic cornerstone, has rarely been questioned. Unfortunately, that is no longer true. Today, Latin Americans have largely lost faith in elections—a result of disinformation, problematic campaign finance systems, inadequate electoral technologies, political influence on electoral institutions, and unsubstantiated claims of fraud by losing candidates, among other factors. Confidence in electoral institutions fell from an average of 47% in 2006 to 31% in 2020, according to Latinobarómetro. Last year, public opinion researchers at Vanderbilt University found that less than half of Latin Americans believe their votes are counted correctly.

To restore confidence in elections, the Wilson Center’s Latin America Program is launching a special initiative to produce recommendations that will address these and other challenges at a time of democratic backsliding in many parts of the region.


  • Electoral authorities have seen their independence undermined or threatened throughout the Americas in recent years. In Mexico, for example, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has sought to curtail the authority of the widely respected National Electoral Institute (INE), including through efforts to sharply reduce its budget and by encouraging the harassment of electoral officials. In Peru, lawmakers are debating constitutional reforms that would give congress the right to impeach the magistrates of the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones electoral court, prompting Jorge Salas Arenas, president of Peru’s Junta Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Board) to warn that Peruvian democracy was “in danger.” In El Salvador, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court permitted President Nayib Bukele to run for reelection in 2023 despite a clear constitutional prohibition. By contrast, Chile’s electoral authorities have remained fully autonomous, despite rising polarization and a busy electoral calendar since 2019.

  • Since the early 2000, Latin American countries have been experimenting with new technologies to conduct elections. These include more reliable election software, automated voting machines, and new tools for the electronic transmission of election results. The new technologies aim to make voting a more agile and reliable experience, increasing participation and trust in democracy. However, not all of these changes meet international standards or involve internal and external audits. More worryingly, public confidence in election technologies has been shaken by partisan attacks. Before and after Brazil’s October 2022 election, for example, then-President Jair Bolsonaro raised unsubstantiated concerns about the reliability of the country’s electronic voting machines. Though he never produced evidence, his criticisms seeded doubts among many of his supporters about the reliability of Brazil’s electoral technologies. Brazil’s experience drew attention to the communication challenges for electoral authorities, and also raised questions about the best technological options, including cloud computing, to assure reliable and transparent elections.

  • Disinformation has become a challenge for democracies worldwide, especially during elections, and in Latin America, these tactics are increasingly common. This has led to difficult debates over how to control the spread of lies while protecting freedom of speech. In Brazil’s last election, for example, social media was a geyser of misinformation and disinformation related to the management of elections, further undermining public confidence in the way the country’s leaders are selected. In Bolivia, meanwhile, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights counted 68,000 fake X accounts, responsible for over 1 million posts in a ten-day period during the political crisis that followed the 2019 election.

  • In 12 out of 15 countries in Latin America surveyed by Vanderbilt University, more than 75% of adults believe the wealthy manipulate electoral outcomes. It is not hard to see why. Nearly half of the countries in the region do not restrict the amount a donor can contribute to a political party outside of election periods, or limit the amount a candidate can spend in a campaign, according to International IDEA. These findings highlight the importance of improving campaign finance laws, regulations, and enforcement to assure the fairness of elections and change voter perceptions. Lax campaign finance rules also open the door to organized crime, corrupting democratic institutions and compromising leaders before they even take office.

  • After tallying the vote in Peru’s 2021 election, Pedro Castillo emerged with a narrow lead over his rival, Keiko Fujimori. There was no evidence of fraud, but Fujimori nevertheless made relentless allegations. As a result, a large number of Peruvians mistrusted the outcome–despite reassurances from national and international observers–and questioned the legitimacy of Castillo’s administration. Peru is hardly the only country in the Americas that has experienced “fraudismo.” These false claims undermine confidence in electoral systems, even in countries with solid democratic foundations. In the United States, for example, 36% of Americans believe the 2020 election was rigged. In Brazil, the country’s electronic voting system, implemented in 1996, has been praised for helping to eliminate fraud and accelerate the reporting of election results. Nevertheless, unfounded criticism of the system by a losing presidential candidate led to widespread doubts about its reliability. In both Brazil and the United States, these allegations led supporters of losing candidates to riot, threatening the peaceful transfer of power.

  • Latin America experienced a democratic transformation over the past 30 years. Establishing independent, competent electoral authorities played a major role in that process. From the late 1970s to the early 2000s, 19 countries in the region redesigned their electoral management bodies. Today, the strengths and weaknesses of the region’s election systems in many ways reflect the decisions made in that period over the institutional design of electoral institutions and regulations and the rules governing the establishment and behavior of political parties. Strong electoral structures safeguard democratic principles and promote inclusive participation and representation. Moreover, factors such as the autonomy of national electoral bodies influence citizen perception of democratic quality. Indeed, many in the region have come to regard electoral institutions as a “fourth constitutional power,” alongside the presidency, congress, and judiciary. For this reason, strengthening independent electoral institutions and continuously improving their design is critical for increasing voter confidence in democratic governance.

  • Election observation missions in Latin America play a crucial role in ensuring transparency and fairness in electoral processes and reassuring voters. The Organization of American States, the European Union, and other institutions regularly conduct election observation missions and have developed reliable protocols for observation, capacity building, and sharing best practices. In moments of political crisis, such as the period following Guatemala's 2023 elections, international observers help assure that the will of voters is respected. Nevertheless, the future of electoral observation is uncertain, clouded by the ad hoc systems for funding electoral observation and providing technical assistance, and by an overreliance on a small group of international donors.

Advisory Committee

Thelma Aldaña

Thelma Aldaña

Former Attorney General and Former President of the Supreme Court, Guatemala
Daniel Chasquetti

Daniel Chasquetti

Head Professor, Political Science Department, Universidad de la República, Uruguay
Lorenzo Cordova

Lorenzo Córdova

Director Chairman of Mexico's National Electoral Institute (INE)
Piero Corvetto

Piero Corvetto

Head of the National Office of Electoral Processes and the National Registry, Peru 
Pamela Figueroa Rubio

Pamela Figueroa Rubio

Counselor, Electroral Service of Chile, (SERVEL)
Román Andrés Jáquez Liranzo

Román Andrés Jáquez Liranzo

President, Central Electoral Board, the Dominican Republic
Minister Torquato Jardim

Torquato Jardim

Former Minister of Justice and Public Security of Brazil
Miriam Kornblith

Miriam Kornblith

Senior Director, Latin America and the Caribbean, National Endowment for Democracy, Venezuela   
Eduardo Valdés Escoffery

Eduardo Valdés Escoffery

Vice President, Electoral Tribunal, Panama

Daniel Zovatto

Global Fellow, Latin America Program, Wilson Center

Corporate Sponsorship: $30,000

    • Opportunity for panel participation by company CEO or appropriate senior executive
    • Opportunity for senior executives to participate in public dialogues, private round tables, and VIP activities
    • Opportunity to help shape initiative's priorities and objectives
    • Special recognition from the podium by Latin America Program director
    • Link to corporate website on initiative webpage and recognition on initiative reports
    • One-year membership on the Latin America Program’s prestigious Advisory Board