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UNDP/IFES report says effective budgeting is essential to avoid political expense
May 2006 - In an era of political-party finance reform and multi-million-dollar campaigns, understanding what elections cost, and why, is crucial to development, especially for fragile states facing competing demands for scarce resources. The first comprehensive analysis of the cost of elections, launched in New York, illustrates how to make the voting process more affordable, transparent and legitimate. It provides a step-by-step guide to election processes around the world.
Produced by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Foundation for the Election Systems (IFES), the report Getting to the CORE -- A Global Survey of the Cost of Registration and Elections explains the measures required in election processes, from voter registration to ballot box security, and at what price, before the casting of the first ballot.
“Being able to evaluate the cost of elections turns out to be an elusive pursuit,” said Mr. Jeff Fischer, co-author of the report and Senior Director of the IFES Center for Transitional and Post-Conflict Governance, noting that, while many aspects of the electoral process had been analyzed, the one area left out was the cost. The report’s objective was to identify budget and financial management practices that had been effective in reducing costs and maintaining integrity in the process. “It is important, particularly in a development context, that monies which are not devoted to the electoral process can be redirected into poverty reduction, health care, infrastructure and other public goods and services.”
One of the principal determinants in the overall cost of an electoral process was the political environment, he said. A conflict or transition environment was more expensive than a stable one. Certain “integrity costs”, including security and peacekeeping, must often be introduced into the electoral process in conflict settings, so as to maintain integrity.
The report, he added, also found that election administration itself tended to be a cost-reducing activity over time. “As democracies get more practice in holding elections, they’re able to maintain, and even reduce, costs over time.” The portfolio of the election-management body was another element that required analysis. Was that body responsible for voter registration, or was there a civil registry that could absorb some of the cost?
Aid effectiveness was one reason why it was important to know the cost of elections, said Ms. Pippa Norris, Director of the Democratic Governance Group, UNDP, noting the increasing number of elections around the world. UNDP was supporting elections more or less every other week, and the total cost could be very high. For example, the total cost of the two elections held in Iraq this year was about $500 million.
It was necessary to understand the most effective use of resources, what they were being spent on, and how to improve expenditure, she emphasized. The report highlighted two types of costs: core costs, which existed in any country; and integrity costs, which included maintaining security, ensuring that voters could get to the polls without being intimidated, and making sure that electoral observers could carry out their work.
The cost estimates could be broken down into three categories, she continued. In stable democracies, such as the United States and countries in Western Europe, the cost averaged $1 to $3 per vote, per election. In consolidating democracies like Mexico, El Salvador, Lesotho and the Russian Federation, the cost rose to about $4 to $8 per vote cast. The most expensive were post-conflict situations, which required investment in voter registration and infrastructure. For example, the average cost per vote was about $12 in 1990 Nicaragua; about $45 per vote in 1993 Cambodia; and about $20 per vote in Afghanistan.
One of the report’s main lessons was that integrity costs were highest in the post-conflict States, she said, adding that security costs fell dramatically with reconstruction, and in subsequent elections. But, the core overall cost of elections in many countries was still rising slightly, due to, among other things, new technology, the increasing number of elections and the growth of professional, institutionalized electoral commissions.
Turning to the electoral effort in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Mountain, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UNDP Resident Representative for the DRC, described the preparations for the first free elections in that country in 45 years. In a country the size of Western Europe and without roads, with a population of 58 million people, the registration of 25 million voters had exceeded expectations. “Above all, it emphasized the enthusiasm of the population to, finally, after 45 years, be involved in selecting their own leadership and legitimate Government.”
He said that, with the assistance of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) -- the Organization’s largest peacekeeping operation, with more than 17,000 troops and 3,000 civilian staff -- the country was now headed for the first round of presidential and national assembly elections in July. There were 9,650 candidates contesting 500 national assembly seats, and 33 presidential candidates.
MONUC had had to deal with 32,000 voting booths, as well as to pay 200,000 electoral workers and 45,000 police, during the registration period, he said. He expected to have 53,000 voting stations in the first round of elections, and to have to pay more than 300,000 electoral workers and well over 50,000 police. Democracy could be very expensive and the Congolese elections would cost an estimated $430 million.
He noted that a major humanitarian crisis had been largely ignored in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where about 1,200 people died every day. “That’s the same as an Asian tsunami every six months,” he added.
In response to questions, he said he did not expect continuing clashes in the eastern part of the country to have a significant impact on voter turnout or participation in the elections.
As for his concerns going into the election, he recalled that Secretary-General Kofi Annan had emphasized, during a recent visit, the need for the electoral process to be as inclusive as possible. It would be tragic if, at the end of the elections, those who did not win tried to find an excuse to return to violence. It was also a matter of concern that, in the first election in 45 years, there was a risk of the focus being on such factors as regional origin and ethnicity. The security aspect was also of high concern, he said, adding that “managing elections in the DRC has given the word ‘nightmare’ new dimensions for me”.
About IFES: IFES is an international, nonprofit organization that supports the building of democratic societies. IFES offers technical assistance to strengthen civil society, elections, governance and rule of law in more than 20 countries. Since our founding in 1987, IFES has worked with election assistance and democratic development in more than 100 countries.
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