Expenses on elections and access to polling stations significantly different in various municipalities

PRESS RELEASE on Audit No. 15/36 – October 24, 2016

The Supreme Audit Office (SAO) examined the efficiency, economy, and effectiveness of State budget funds spent on preparing elections held in the period from 2010 to 2014. Auditors selected a sample for audit, which included 2009 and 2014 elections to the European Parliament, 2010 and 2013 elections to the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament, and the presidential elections held in 2013. The State budget funds spent on elections ranged in the selected elections from CZK 420 million to CZK 489 million, with the total costs exceeding CZK 2,300 million. The SAO analysed the number and distribution of wards, correspondence of polling station addresses, the geographic accessibility of election polls for voters or the utilisation, and location of the election workstations. Over the past twenty years, the SAO became the first institution to have taken interest in these aspects.

The greatest portion of local and regional government expenditures comprises of expenditures of some 6,000 self-governed municipalities and expenditures of 26 statutory cities. For example, during the elections to the European Parliament in 2014, the election expenditures amounted to CZK 117 million with the municipalities and to CZK 105 million with the statutory cities. The greatest portion of municipal expenditures comprised of remuneration of members of ward electoral commissions. Auditors revealed that the system of financing the election expenditures of municipalities allowed for significant differences in the costs per one ward. For example, during 2014 elections to the European Parliament, the average costs per one ward made less than CZK 20,000 in four statutory cities, while costs ranged between CZK 20,000 and CZK 30,000 in 15 statutory cities, between CZK 30,000 and CZK 40,000 in four municipalities, and exceeded CZK 40,000 in three municipalities.

The SAO recommended that the financing of municipal expenditures on elections should be simplified, because the administration processes constitutes a financial challenge, especially for small municipalities. At the same time, the system of controlling these expenditures, which the Ministry of Finance is responsible for, should also be improved. The audit revealed that the Ministry only marginally controlled municipalities with extended competencies of delegated state administration and statutory cities, in spite of the fact that the average as well as absolute expenditures were the highest in these municipalities.

Auditors also examined the geographic accessibility of elections as a service with its quality influenced mainly by the structure and number of wards and distance for voters in the respective municipalities to the polling stations, which varied significantly. For example, during the elections to the European Parliament in 2014, there were seven wards in Neurazy, which is a municipality with the area of 27 square kilometres, while there was only one ward established in Chodová Planá, which has the area of 57 square kilometres and almost double the number of eligible voters. Both municipalities did observe the conditions stipulated by the law. However, the issue of different geographic access to polling stations has not been addressed in the electoral code over the past 20 years.

Wards were specified by municipalities based on a law from 1994, which stipulated that each ward should cover at least 1 000 eligible voters. Regardless of the number of inhabitants, there should be at least one polling station in each municipality, and other can be established in unincorporated settlements. More than 58 % of electoral divisions have less than 666 voters, with more than one-third of divisions having less than 333 voters. The average number of voters in one electoral division is 568 in the Czech Republic, which is the least when compared to the numbers in Poland, Austria, and Slovakia. Without increasing the distance of voters to the ballot boxes, the number of wards could be decreased in case of coinciding addresses of polling stations. For example, there were 143 wards at 36 different addresses for some 100,000 voters in Pilsen during the parliamentary elections in 2013. Auditors estimated that the number of wards could be decreased by 27 with each ward still having only 1,000 voters, which would generate savings in the amount of CZK 630,000 for each election.

Sufficient conditions have not been created for changing the structure and number of wards although the Ministry of the Interior has submitted three legislative proposals to expand the possibilities for changing the structure and number of wards since 2004. The respective legal regulation that would have made optimisation of election workstations possible for all other elections was not adopted. The SAO recommended the Ministry to initiate technical adjustments of the relevant legislative in order to promote a review of the conditions regulating the structure and number of wards and election workstations.

Voting results from wards are handed over to the respective election workstations according to the catchment area of the municipality, in which the ward is located, regardless of travel time/distance from the polling stations. Sometimes, a closer workstation could be used, which would cut down the transport costs with the same electoral results. For example, voting results from Vranov are handed over and processed in Šlapanice (24 kilometres far from Vranov), but there is a closer workstation in Brno-Útěchov (3 kilometres far). As early as in 2002, the Czech Statistical Office warned that the existing number of election workstations and number of wards per election workstations were inefficient.

Based on the audit findings, the SAO recommends better cooperation among the relevant central authorities of the State administration (central government authorities), which should exchange all necessary data and analyses.

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