IFES and the UN issued a report on the cost of elections and how they can be estimated. A UN article on the report states:
“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.
The report contends that the cost of elections have two components: costs associated with the actual conduct of the election and costs associated with maintaining security and providing a stable environment in which democracy can take place.
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 press release for the report notes that:
The cost estimates [for elections] 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.
There is an interesting statement in the report that gives you a sense of the costs associated with elections in war-torn countries. The UN article notes:
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.
The bottom line is that elections have an array of costs not normally associated with merely the purchase of ballots!