Election Universe

How much does an election cost?

How much does an election cost?
October 16 2018, 19:36

The cost of elections is a challenging number to study as it varies drastically depending on the political, socio-economic, legal or historic contex.

Broadly speaking, costs can include a variety of things, such as the fixed cost, which is how much the administration spends regularly, even in the absence of an election. And it can also include variable costs, which are the other costs incurred in conducting the election. Most of the cost of an election are variable costs.

Variable costs can include voting materials, voter lists, voter security, postal services, police force support, working with the media, and even integrity costs. Integrity costs are both monetary and non-monetary expenses regarding the safeguard of the vote, and that the results are as accurate as possible.

Research on election costs

There is little consistent information available on the actual cost of managing and running elections. The Cost of Registration and Elections (CORE) Project[1] (and its currently undergoing sequel: CORE II) is a precise starting point of reference for most academics, practitioners, and journalists working on the matter.

The CORE project framework, definitions of election costs and variables, figures and classification matrix (by electorate size and Democracy stage: stable, transitional, conflict environment) are a primary source for comparing elections costs globally.

Besides the CORE Project, there are some other compelling academic efforts and professional studies focusing primarily on helping EMBs figuring out the cost of running elections (see ACE Project, IFES, UNDP or IDEA reports on electoral expenses. For the US, The National Conference of State Legislatures research papers, or findings by The Center for Responsive Politics. In the UK: Research by Dr. Toby James or the recent article by WebRoots Democracy are interesting sources. Moreover, there are also a few other more global approaches mainly on the international donors’ investment in elections in fragile states.)

Costs evaluation process

The framework to carry out successful cost-benefits and cost-effectiveness analysis will depend on numerous factors, and it will vary significantly among countries and even among localities in the same region. It might comprise indicators on the political environment/stability of the country, the electoral legal framework, the costs model classification, the budgeting structure, and the sources of funding.

  1. The evaluation of variables must include the listing and budgeting of all known (and potential unforeseen) costs associated with the administration of an election. It could use local, regional or international previous experiences, EMBs expertise, and external consulting advice.
  2. The following step will be selecting indicators and variables that affect election spending, to then proceed with the financial breakdown and sustainability evaluation.
  3. Finally, once the research is complete, it can become a useful tool for policy-makers and administrators to contrast their spending, evaluate implementing new procedures or comply with new electoral legislation, or just improve its election planning and perform.

So why does election cost matter?

It matters because calculating the costs of an election can allow administrators to budget properly. Without the proper planning and budgeting, an election can go downhill, and ultimately hurt democracy.

Many factors go into managing a successful election. Budgeting is vital. Knowing, understanding, and managing election costs ensure that Election Management Bodies objectives are more focused on guaranteeing citizen’s rights and that the votes are counted, results are more reliable.

[1] Lopez-Pintor, R. and Fischer, J., 2005, ‘Cost of Registration and Elections (CORE) Project’.