Voting for Militants: Rebel Elections in Civil War Academic Article uri icon


  • Rebel actors engage in a number of behaviors beyond violent conflict, including social service provision, diplomacy, and establishing local governance. This article centers on an oft-overlooked aspect of rebel behavior and governance: rebel groups conducting popular elections in wartime. We argue that rebel elections are a means through which rebels can strengthen both local and international legitimacy, but that there are risks to employing elections (such as logistical failures or publicized disconnect from civilians). We hypothesize that rebels that are pursuing legitimacy (local and international) in other ways are likely to set up rebel elections and that rebel groups with greater organizational capacity are more likely to introduce elections because they are well placed to manage the risks elections entail. Using a global data set of rebel use of elections where local civilians vote to elect rebel representatives at various levels of organizational hierarchy, we find empirical support for these propositions.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 16.2

author list (cited authors)

  • Cunningham, K. G., Huang, R., & Sawyer, K. M.

citation count

  • 15

complete list of authors

  • Cunningham, Kathleen Gallagher||Huang, Reyko||Sawyer, Katherine M

publication date

  • January 2021