On 20–21 November, senior practitioners and experts attended a workshop in Stockholm aimed at developing a new Building Resources for Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) module on the financing and budgeting of elections.
This Expert Working Group shared stories of ‘elections gone wrong’, providing the next generation of election administrators “the gift of what we wish we had known when it comes to election financing”, explained, Therese Pearce Laanela, Senior Programme Manager at International IDEA.
Participants from Australia, Lesotho, Indonesia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Namibia shared stories, highlighting the myriad of challenges that election management bodies (EMBs) face in administering elections—from navigating procurement and auditing processes to unexpected costs related to electoral materials, workers strikes, bad weather, delayed access to ballot papers due to customs requirements and last-minute court proceedings. Mamosebi Pholo, Commissioner of the Electoral Commission of Lesotho, described being constitutionally responsible for conducting four re-run elections but not having the funding necessary to do so.
Each story drew out crucial learnings about the timing, sources and effective and efficient use of funding, informing the development of the ‘Key Understandings’ for the forthcoming BRIDGE module.
Lessons learned from elections gone wrong
The key message distilled from the workshop was that elections need to be re-conceptualized as “an investment not a cost”, stated Notemba Tjipueja, Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Namibia. Elections have wide ranging costs, including for routine administration, election-specific materials, external agencies and unforeseen events. But beyond this, failed elections have serious social, economic, political and sometimes even human costs. Most of the world’s EMBs are given the legal status of independence from the executive government. Too frequently, however, this legal independence is not accompanied with financial independence, said Harry Neufeld, Former Chief Election Officer of British Colombia, Canada.
Flowing from this, participants identified the need to make a case for investing in EMBs. How an EMB advocates for funding will depend on its audience, explained Ross Attrill, the workshop facilitator. For some, “a case on the societal value of elections will suffice. For others, you will need to make a business case”, he said.
This will include the benefits of ongoing, rather than election-specific funding, and of providing election funds as early as possible. “The importance of balancing relationships, integrity, time and costs in the financing and budgeting of elections hasn’t been understood in many democracies”, and “no two elections will have the same costing structure or financing requirements”, explained Jeff Pope, Deputy Commissioner of the Australian Electoral Commission.
The participants also highlighted that to make a successful case for the funding of electoral processes, transparent financial reporting by EMBs is essential. “Accountability will help them gain trust, putting them in a better position to advocate for more funding”, said Pope.
The participants agreed that adequate time, trusting relationships, and sufficient funds are the pillars of successful elections. Compromising any one of these could have serious financial, social or political costs.
The forthcoming BRIDGE module
The workshop was a successful first step in the development of the financing and budgeting of elections module for BRIDGE as well as other knowledge resources. Participants returned to their respective homes proud of their contribution to the world’s most comprehensive electoral curriculum, and having formed a new community of practice on the topic.
“The workshop was an empowering, rewarding and enriching experience”, said Pope, “and I look forward to the completed module and other products that will come from this”.
BRIDGE is a modular professional development programme, promoting principles of democracy and good electoral practice. Since 2001, BRIDGE workshops have been conducted 2,167 times in more than 100 countries, with 15,000 participants. The forthcoming module aims to respond to a growing need for resources on the topic from International IDEA’s Member States and regional programmes, and to a commitment made to our BRIDGE partner organizations in New York in June 2017, explained Erik Asplund, Programme Officer at International IDEA.
During the workshop, participants drafted the module’s Key Understandings—a list of what BRIDGE facilitators would want participants to know before completing the module.
- Appropriate investment in election processes helps provide a stable and inclusive democracy.
- There are numerous elements in the budgeting and finance process that all need to be clearly defined.
- Financing and budgeting of electoral processes should be based on accepted and agreed standards and principles.
- There are numerous stakeholders in the financing and budgeting of elections who should have a clear and shared understanding of their distinct roles and responsibilities across the electoral cycle.
- Building a strong and trusted relationship with internal and external stakeholders based on clear and effective communication is key to receiving appropriate funding in a timely manner.
- A clear plan which includes risk analysis, contingency planning, a timeline and monitoring strategies is necessary before the financing and budgeting process can take place.
- All budgets should support a specific plan and should have the appropriate budget lines to facilitate that plan.
- There are competing demands and priorities for investment in the electoral process and these will affect the financing of each individual plan.
- There are multiple potential sources of financing of elections.
- The timely release of funds is crucial to the success of electoral processes.
- Systematic and user-friendly documentation of financing and budgeting of elections, including decision-making processes, will lead to the consolidation of knowledge and lessons learned and to greater trust in the electoral process.
- The financing and budgeting of electoral processes should be regularly monitored and evaluated.