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Core Concepts - Thinking Through Budgets

Budget decisions are an integral part of the programme planning stage. They should allow a realistic timetable for activities and expenditures.

Mobilizing stakeholders and donors should begin even before planning is fully underway. It is easier to obtain support and cooperation from stakeholders when they have been involved from the beginning and perceive themselves as having a stake in the planning process. See also the section of this Toolkit on Resources and Partnerships.

Depending on whether a country office is looking at new assistance or re-formulating its assistance, funding at early stages of discussion about an electoral assistance programme could come from TRAC resources or a pre-existing electoral assistance programme. Some generic requirements at this stage are:

  • Budget for a needs assessment/project formulation mission (For more details, see also the Needs Assessment section of this Toolkit)
  • Salaries for PMU personnel
  • Equipment and materials for communication
  • Transportation
  • Physical space

UNDP country offices need to evaluate the impact of the proposed electoral assistance on existing staff and resources, especially in the finance, procurement and contracting areas. If necessary, additional UNDP staff should be brought in to reinforce the existing capacities and relevant training should be provided.

Country offices should consider programme budgets in light of the overall cost of the election. As a general principle, the expense of running an election, which can be a country’s most complicated logistical undertaking, varies widely. It can range from US $1 per voter in established democracies with strong electoral management and a pre-existing information technology infrastructure, to US $50 per voter for “first-generation” elections in post-conflict countries or newly formed states.

Post-conflict elections typically involve extremely high costs due to the number of activities that need to be carried out for the first time, and to the need to secure the integrity of the vote and the safety of the voters. Tight deadlines, lack of adequate infrastructures and assets, and a volatile security environment can further drive up costs. Although less costly, second- or third- generation elections can also come at a high price, especially when voter registration rates increase, voter registration systems change, technological upgrades are needed, or other priorities require attention.

It can be difficult for the national government and/or the EMB to put together a realistic overall budget for elections, but this is critical for proper implementation of an assistance project. In some cases, an EMB will not share its budget with UNDP or donors. One crucial discussion with national counterparts is the relationship between the EMB’s core budget and donor funds, particularly if the government has the authority to reduce core funding proportional to donor input.

In addition to operational and staff costs, electoral budget items generally comprise:

  • Voter registration
  • Boundary delimitation
  • Voting operations
  • Counting and transmission of results
  • Dispute adjudication
  • Voter education and information
  • Campaigning by political parties and candidates
  • Oversight by party representatives and domestic or international observers.

It often proves less duplicative and more strategic to help national stakeholders formulate an overall budget for the electoral process - either for the EMB´s multi-year strategic plan or the delivery of one election or both. Once that is done, it can be easier to identify what will be taken in charge by the Government or EMB per se, and what will be taken in charge by the international community. The last step would be to identify what goes into the budget of the electoral assistance programme. This approach keeps all stakeholders aware of the overall cost of the process, and helps with the integrated planning of EMB and assistance programme expenditures. Some EMBs may need technical assistance in putting together their own budget.

See also the Checklist of Considerations and Challenges for Cost-Effective Elections.

Elections, Electoral, Electoral Cycle, Electoral Law, Voter registration, Civic Education, Voter Education, Public Outreach, Turnout, Voter, Political Party, Political Parties, Electoral Observation, Basket funds, Resource Mobilization, Fund Management, Electoral Procurement, Election Materials, UNDP, United Nations Development Programme, Implementation, Electoral Assistance, Partnership, Capacity Development, Needs Assessment, Risk Assessment, Terms of Reference, ToRs, Electoral Budget, Electoral Planning, Electoral Management Body, EMB, Project Development, Note of Guidance, Guidance, ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, ACE, BRIDGE, Building Resources in Democracy Governance and Elections, EC-UNDP Partnership, EC-UNDP Operational guidelines, Electoral Administration, Gender