New UN report shows how to estimate cost of elections worldwide

18 May 2006
Ross Mountain briefs press on report

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 resource, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and an international foundation dealing with the issue (IFES).

“CORE: A Global Survey on the Cost of Registration and Elections” illustrates comprehensively how to make the voting process more affordable, transparent and legitimate, explaining what measures need to be put in place, from voter registration to ballot-box security, and at what price, before the very first ballot is cast.

“We often talk about the need for ‘free and fair’ elections, but not enough about how much they cost,” Pippa Norris, the head of UNDP’s Democratic Governance Group, told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York. “Whether an election works depends on the money available and how it is spent.”

“Accurately measuring the cost of elections can be a difficult endeavour,” said Jeff Fischer of IFES, a co-author of the report. “Although election budgets are set by public appropriation, the total cost of elections is affected by additional factors, such as the political and security environments, that create a more complex cost structure than is considered by public accountancy alone.”

CORE compares elections in such different democratic environments as stable political conditions in India and Sweden, transitional democracies such as Mexico, and conflict and post-conflict countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti.

The report emphasizes that States with a history of multiparty democracy have cheaper elections than do countries where elections are new. In emerging democracies, if reconciliation works well, election costs decline dramatically. For example, the 1993 Cambodian election cost $45.50 per capita, compared with $2 per voter in 2003.

Integrity costs, associated with ensuring security and transparency, are reduced by investment in disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and infrastructure development, say the authors, while other electoral costs, related to personnel, or the introduction of new technology, may remain constant, or even increase.

Ross Mountain, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UNDP Resident Representative for the DRC, told the news conference: “Establishing a democracy is an expensive business – especially when you consider that DRC is a country the size of Western Europe with no roads – but it is vital in the process of reconstituting a nation.”

“Unfortunately, elections require substantial investment up front, and as CORE highlights, we need to get that investment right. At the moment, we are still $48 million short of the required $430 million,” he added.

Preparations for the DRC’s vote, scheduled for July constitute the largest and most complex UN electoral-assistance mission being undertaken.

The Deputy Special Representative said that the country was headed for the first round of presidential and national assembly elections in 45 years. Preparations had to be made for 33 presidential candidates, as well as another 9,650 candidates contesting 500 National Assembly seats, he added.

During the registration period, MONUC had had to organize 32,000 voting booths and pay 200,000 electoral workers and 45,000 police, Mr. Mountain 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, as well as over 50,000 police, he said.

CORE said the 30 January 2005 election in Iraq, which took place after over a year and a half of temporary administrations following the fall of former President Saddam Hussein, cost $180 million. This included taking 3.3 million kilograms of election material, such as polling kits, ballot boxes and voter lists, to and from more than 5,000 polling centres in the midst of severe, continuing conflict.


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