Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Metrics of Efficiency for the Comelec

Put in clear and appropriate metrics.  That's what I shared at yesterday's strategic planning workshop of the Commission on Elections.

Examples of measures of efficiency in using state resources in the administration of elections are: 1) the cost of getting elected; and 2) cost of a vote, which would include the cost of informing voters. These metrics would be used to measure the performance of the Comelec over time.

The objective of the Comelec should be to target an optimized cost of getting elected that would attract talent and make the process inclusive and competitive. In optimizing, the Comelec would identify the various cost components, like patronage and propaganda cost, and bring down those that are attributable to them or put in controls to spending in areas where they can. In this manner the election management body becomes a leveler of the electoral playing field. By looking closely at the cost components, the Comelec would be better informed as to where state support could come in and in what forms so that election would be within reach of many. The unit is cost of election in pesos for each elected position group (i.e. president, senator, and all the way down to the municipal or city councilor).

The longer term objective of the Comelec should be to track the cost of serving an elected position.

I compute the cost of a vote in the May 2010 election at PhP486 or USD11. This is from pundits' estimate of PhP17 billion total cost, divided by the turnout of 35 million voters (73 percent). This doesn't include the costs borne by civil society organizations doing support work to the Comelec in voter information, outreach to vulnerable sectors, reporting on election-related violence, and others that are not covered by state funds.

Vicente Paterno, former senator and fellow member of the Namfrel national council comments, since the estimate of the cost of counting machines in the upcoming legislative elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is between PhP1.8 and 2 billion, the cost per voter translates to over PhP1,000. Since only three positions are on the ballot, the cost would be over PhP300 per contested-position vote. I add that turnout in these elections are historically low -- around 30 percent; you can figure how the cost skyrockets with the inefficiency.

I have not seen any accounting on the cost of an overseas absentee vote, but I suspect it is high because the turnout was a measly single digit.

Thanks to the senior staff and the middle managers of the Comelec who suggested that civil society representatives should be among those to input in the formulation of their strategic planning.

Among the Comelec division chiefs in the strategic planning session series were representatives of the Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER), Lawyers League for Liberty (Libertas)/Lawyers Network for Transparent Elections (LENTE),, National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), and Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN). 


  1. Glad to see you there sir.

    On the cost of election. I remember my former COMELEC boss Chris Monsod saying that election is the cost center of democracy - meaning that society must really bear the cost of making sure that the will of the people are reflected in the government that will come out of it.

    Thus, it may not be enough to make per capita cost of election the main measure or metric of COMELEC efficiency. The objectives of running an election, that is, more access to voting by more voters, and accuracy of vote count, thus credibility and public acceptability of election results, should also be factored in. Moreover, the cost should also be measured as a percentage of GDP. Achieving the objectives of running an election at lower cost is what can somehow measure COMELEC's efficiency, although there are a lot of other important intangibles that must come into play.

    On the cost of getting elected. I don't think it is just COMELEC which must be responsible in leveling the electoral playing field. Congress has an important role to play. It should set the policy - clear policy - through laws that COMELEC can implement on the ground. Comelec merely enforces and administers election laws, laws are made by Congress. It may not be fair therefore to measure COMELEC's efficiency using this metrics.Rather it has to be measured in terms of how comelec perform its job on the basis of the existing policy environment.

    Just my two cents worth idol


  2. Coming from a non-specialist perspective, my concern as a citizen of the Philippines continues to be in the areas of simplicity, transparency and accountability in the electoral process.

    For instance, the immediate post-election coverage highlights the complexity and high cost of contesting election results. The costs associated with this, such as the costs of legal representation and ballot recount (to name a few), and the time it takes for COMELEC to adjudicate its cases are deterrents to those candidates with meager financial resources. And so in addition to cost components identified, such as patronage, propaganda and the actual election costs, I would suggest other important focus points such as complexity of the existing legal and administrative rules, the public availability of these rules, and the cost and length of the COMELEC adjudication process to be as important to those already identified.

    Here's an interesting flight of fancy: wouldn't it be inspiring if an ordinary Juan de la Cruz can run for congressman, lose against a sleazy opponent, goes to the head office of COMELEC in Manila to defend himself (without the assistance of an electoral lawyer such as Romeo Macalintal), and then WIN(?!?!?). I'd rank a movie with a storyline like that on the same level as the best ones made by Frank Capra.