Crucially, it’s not just national elections that can put a strain on peace and stability. In Brazil, 22 people were murdered in the run up to the local government elections of 2002, leading 410 towns to request additional security from the police.
With such harrowing stakes, what can be done to defend democracy?
There are many important organisations around the world trying to promote democracy and ensure better quality elections, but all too often they lack the international backing that they need to have an effect.
This is because international support for high quality democracy and free and fair elections is on the wane.
For one thing, authoritarian states like China and Russia are becoming bigger players in international politics, and they certainly don’t exert pressure on governments that fail to hold high quality elections.
And for another, the election of Donald Trump in the US has called into question the willingness of the world’s most powerful nation to defend democracy either at home or abroad.
Trump’s open embrace of authoritarian strongmen from Turkey to Egypt to the Philippines sends a reassuring signal to would-be despots in the rest of the world who might once have feared American sanction.
As a result, instead of defending democracy, recent international developments have made it easier to rig elections.
This trend threatens to erode the credibility of the election as an institution; worse still, it might undermine global public support for democracy itself.
But while there are many ways to rig an election, there are also many ways to save democracy.
Right now, the despots are winning the battle – but if the world rallies behind it, democracy may yet win the war.
By Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas. This article was first published by The Conversation