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Photos taken during.a series of contracts working on elections in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, Bamiyan, election public outreach, sample ballot, 2005 Wolesi Jirga elections

A sample ballot in the 2005 Afghan Wolesi Jirga elections, Bamiyan Province

2004 Afghanistan presidential election, refugee voting, Pakistan

A polling center for Afghan refugees in Pakistan's NWFP, 2004

Afghanistan, Mazar-i-S

The Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif, on a 2009 visit during a UNDP election assistance program review


Peacemaking Referendums: The Use of Direct Democracy in Peace Processes." 

Democratization 27, no. 5 (2020): 717-736.

Peacemakers have mandated and held a growing number of referendums since the end of World War II, seeking to forge, legitimate, and enact peace agreements. Although there has been a recent increase in scholarly attention given to this mechanism, there is no broadly-scoped, middle-range theory building that makes sense of how these events relate to each other or the conditions under which such referendums contribute to peace.  This article presents an analytical framework within which cases are meaningfully compared and which outlines a series of processes at the heart of seemingly disparate referendum outcomes. This framework was developed through an inductive review of referendums organized for peace, elite interviews with peacemakers and elections officials, and field work in Cyprus, East Timor, Indonesia, and South Sudan. Peacemaking referendums may form a basis for peacemaking, serve as a non-violent channel for decision-making on root causes of conflict, and increase the legitimacy and inclusion of peace deals.  However, these votes risk electoral violence, long-term freezing of conflicts, and contributing to returns to war.  Referendums’ variation in outcomes is not random. It is associated with variations in how a referendum is mandated and the type of question asked of voters. This article establishes peacemaking referendums' commonalities as an analytical category and the differences among them that lead to particular risks to peacebuilding.

"Peacemaking Referendums in Oceania: Making or Delaying Peace in New Caledonia and Bougainville." Ethnopolitics 18, no. 2 (January 2019): 139-157. 

Secessionist conflicts present challenges for peacemaking. Separatists’ and states’ irreconcilable demands frequently prevent negotiated settlement. One peacemaking model for territorial conflict is temporary autonomy followed by a referendum on independence. Both sides have an opportunity to persuade voters of their positions while de-escalating conflict prior to a polarizing vote. This article examines the application of this model in two cases: the French territory of New Caledonia and the Papua New Guinean province of Bougainville, and argues that the model succeeds in temporary stabilization but may fail to alter the irreconcilable territorial claims of states and breakaway regions, risking conflict relapse.

Populist and Authoritarian Referendums: The Role of Direct Democracy in Democratic De-consolidation. In Democracy and Disorder, Brookings Institution, February 2019 

Since 2006, democratic backsliding has been a global phenomenon, and referendums are perceived to be mechanisms that facilitate democratic de-consolidation. Moreover, populist-authoritarianism and Illiberal democracy are often described as plebiscitary. In response to the global populist-authoritarian wave, there have been some strongly negative conclusions on the dangers of referendums to liberal democracy: that incompetent voters with imperfect information should not be allowed to make decisions on sovereign structures and constitutional change. There are historic, structural and normative reasons to associate the rising use of mechanisms of direct democracy (MDDs) with declining liberalism. However, the association between direct democracy, populist-authoritarianism and illiberalism is often taken for granted rather than interrogated. Is there a correlation between the current trends in democratic deconsolidation and the use of direct democracy? This study finds that the populist-authoritarian wave is less plebiscitary than assumed. In Europe and Latin America referendums may be used to advance or block populist illiberal moves. In contrast, constitutional referendums that extend the authority of executives in sub-Saharan Africa have played an important role in rolling back liberal constraints on elected leaders across the sub-region.


"Do Referendums Resolve or Perpetuate Contention?" in Pippa Norris, Richard W. Frank, and Ferran Martínez i Coma, eds., 111-130. Contentious Elections: From Ballots to Barricades. Routledge: 2015.

Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a proliferation of elections. This includes a rising number of elections that increase contention and polarization. During this time, the use of referendums has also increased globally. Mechanisms of direct democracy are frequently viewed as highly prone to exacerbate contention and galvanize polarization. Referendums lack the iteration that moderates representative elections. Direct votes can be zero-sum, high-stakes majoritarian events. These characteristics may maximize contention. However, referendums can also build consensus by de-legitimizing spoilers, building coalitions and legitimizing alterations of the status quo. Examining referendums held in fragile, post-conflict settings, this chapter explores conditions under which referendums may resolve or exacerbate contention.



“Colombia’s Rejected Peacemaking Referendum: Bridge between peacemaking and peacebuilding.” 

In October 2016, Colombian voters unexpectedly rejected the government-supported peace accord designed to end the decades-long civil war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The referendum was viewed as one in a series of polls held around the world in which voters rejected centrist policies favored by governments and elites. An emergent consensus formed among policymakers and practitioners that referendums can be dangerous to policies and institutions of liberal democracy. This perspective is reflected in debates in scholarly literature on whether mechanisms of direct democracy enhance majoritarian or consociational aspects of democratic systems.  This article argues that these debates’ focus on the output rather than process of a vote frequently obscures the primary contributions of referendums to peace. Specifically, using elite-interviews, this project will examine the contributions of Colombia’s agreement to hold a referendum to the Havana peace talks as well as the impact of its institutional design on the accord’s subsequent ratification. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the referendum in Colombia encouraged peacemakers to negotiate. Further, the process of legalizing the referendum increased support for the peace accord within the constitutional court and Congress. These positive contributions were not negated by the voters’ rejection of the accord and nevertheless helped in the process of ratifying and enacting the peace accord. In conclusion, this article argues that analysis focused on whether a referendum returns a certain result is incomplete. Colombia’s vote exemplifies the ways in which referendums make contributions to a peace process regardless of the outcome of the polls, as the structuring of a peace process and structuring of a referendum can be mutually reinforcing.

“Peacemaking Referendums in Sudan: South Sudan, Abyei, and Darfur.” 

Over the last fifteen years the government of Sudan has agreed to several peacemaking referendums. These include agreements to votes on secession for southern Sudan, whether Abyei would join the South and whether Darfur would form a unified region. This number and variety of uses for direct democracy in peacemaking is exceptional. Moreover, the government of Sudan agreed to put territorial decisions on the ballot, signaling willingness to violate a core existential interest of the state in order to make peace. Sudan did not pursue a uniform strategy in its approach to each of these referendums. The vote on Abyei was never organized. Mass violence and procedural contestation prevented that referendum. However, South Sudan successfully voted for independence in January 2011, and in April 2016, Darfuris voted to uphold the administrative status quo, rejecting a unified region in a vote viewed as less than free and fair. This article explores the reasons for the GoS to make these remarkable agreements and how the referendum processes each served the interests of the National Congress Party (NCP) regime.

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