The holding of elections has become universal but only about half of all elections are free and fair. Electoral malpractice not only distorts the quality of representation but has implications for political, social and economic outcomes. Existing datasets either provide information on election quality for a large number of elections but offer little detail, or they provide very detailed information for a small number of elections. Our data collection effort closes this gap by providing ten variables of election quality for all leadership elections for the period 1975–2011. We use these data to provide an assessment of elections that is closely tied to the commonly used term ‘free and fair’. We define ‘freeness’ of the election as the rules of the election and the process leading up to the election, and ‘fairness’ of the election refers to the events on the election day. Our data show that the quality of elections has declined over time. These electoral problems are mainly due to issues in the run-up to the elections. Using probit regressions we investigate the possible causes of election malpractice. Our analysis suggests that the freeness and the fairness of the elections are related to a number of variables, such as income, aid, executive constraints and the presence of election monitors, but that these variables have differential effects on freeness and fairness.