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James Long ’03 fights electoral fraud in Africa, Afghanistan

Ask JameJames Long visiting the Electoral Complaints Commission in the Panjsher Valley, Afghanistan, in 2010.s Long about the fundamental influences in his career and he looks east to Williamsburg and the College of William & Mary.

“My first day of class freshman year I walked into Mike Tierney’s freshman seminar on War and Democracy in the government department,” said Long ’03, a Ph.D candidate in political science at the University of California, San Diego. “I’m not even sure I knew what International Relations was or meant, but I thought I wanted to be an IR major. I credit that class and Mike Tierney for the original inspiration to pursue my course of study.”

Nearly a decade after that seminar, Long has made a name for himself studying elections and political accountability in emerging democracies, including the determinants of voting behavior, the dynamics of electoral fraud, and the causes and consequences of political violence.

In 2010, Long served as Democracy International’s Research Director for its Election Observation Mission for Afghanistan, and has observed additional elections in Uganda (2011), Afghanistan (2009), Ghana (2008), and Kenya (2007). 

“I originally became interested in electoral fraud when I conducted a nationwide exit poll for Kenya’s 2007 election,” explained Long. “The data from (that) survey were the only independent sources of information that showed that the government had systematically rigged the election, Moreover, I obtained copies of vote tallies that had been clearly altered to favor the governing party.”

The insights gained helped Long think about further research on tally fraud in other countries. He and UCSD colleague Mike Callen designed a monitoring technology for election observers in Afghanistan.

“It involves delivering a letter to polling station managers on election day announcing that their station will be monitored by local Afghans, who will return the next day and photograph the tallies with digital cameras produced and posted at each location,” Long said. “We then compare those original tallies with the ones ultimately certified by the electoral commission to see whether any of them have been altered.”

Long’s conclusion is that this monitoring has a noticeable impact on electoral fraud.

“We find effects of decreasing fraud with this kind of technology, which is significantly cheaper than international monitoring, and allows citizens in their own countries to take control of election observation,” he said. “We have since replicated our study with Clark Gibson and Danielle Jung, two colleagues at UCSD, in Uganda. We have worked with Qualcomm to now use a unique Android smartphone application to capture and send the photos of tallies.”

In addition to observing elections, Long has consulted for Democracy International, South Consulting (Nairobi), UN Development Program (UNDP), African Center for Open Governance (Nairobi), and conducted field research in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Chad, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Ghana, and Uganda. Long also serves as the co-principal investigator for the Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) Project of W&M’s Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations.

“None of my first trips to Africa would have been possible without the help and support of Lisa Grimes and the Charles Center,” said Long. “Mike (Tierney) introduced me to Lisa early on, and she quickly encouraged me to apply for scholarships for research and study abroad. As a result, I received Wilson, Batten and Boren scholarships to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. Later in graduate school, after I had left the College, Lisa also helped me to apply for a successful Fulbright scholarship to Uganda.”

To today’s W&M students, Long advises working hard and speaking up in class, as well as visiting the Charles Center and the Reves Center for International Studies.

“Definitely visit the Reves Center,” Long declared, “and study abroad. Anywhere, it doesn’t matter! Everyone should study abroad, not just International Relations majors. I spent a year in Tanzania, and wish it could have been longer.”

Next up for Long is a continuing study of elections in new democracies, with immediate plans to finish his dissertation. He credits his family for his success in his studies and career, noting that William & Mary has been like a second family to him.

“It’s hard to imagine how I would have gotten here without the dedication of a number of individuals and institutions at W&M,” he said. “Nobody gets far in academia (or life) alone, so I encourage students to foster the connections now that they will have long after they leave the College.”