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Electoral Supply Chain: a review

Electoral Supply Chain: a review

Electoral Supply Chain: a review

Electoral Supply Chain: a review

Whereas some countries have enjoyed democratic and socio economic developments through elections, many others have suffered violence, divided societies, high cost of election, and reduction of public confidence in electoral, political and judicial systems. Electoral institutions can produce political conditions that not only impact on the potential costs, benefits of participation but results of the final elections. It can be argued that the Electoral institutions can influence the outcome of elections not only by indirectly shaping the differentiation and stability of choices available to voters but through other supply chain inefficiencies. These supply chain inefficiencies are sometimes alleged to be malpractices designed to enrich national executives or the parties involve or to aid a favored a candidate usually the incumbent or the Trinity. Among the supply chain incompetence that can have significant effect on an outcome of election was trumpeted by Prof Douglas Boateng after Ghana’s 2012 elections as inadequate supply chain experts, electoral logistics, poor service delivery, procurement and other supply chain management practices (chronicle, 2013). This paper therefore seeks to expound on the effect of supply chain practices on elections. It will do so by defining electoral supply chain and discuss key component of electoral supply chain that the author believe can impact on an outcome of elections hence an a country as a whole.

Electoral supply chain management.

Founded on numerous literature reviewed on the definition of supply chain management and elections, Electoral supply chain management (ESCM) can be defined as the planning, procurement and management of all electoral activities related to both the forward and reverse flow of materials, information, and finances among channel members to derive the will of the people as express in honest, free and fair election held within duration of a time segment on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage. It must be emphasis that non-coordination and non-integration of the related flows with its channel members will render the supply chain ineffective. The key component of supply chain believed to exist in the above definition and also related to Electoral supply chain hence worthy of discussion are: Demand management, sourcing and procurement, Logistics management, and ethical issues.

Demand management in electoral supply chain.

In their work demand chain management; a tool for stake holders’ value maximization, Anning et al, 2013, defined demand management as the alignment, coordination and management of the entire business process and activities in order to maximize stakeholders values. From their explanation we can relate stake holders in electoral supply chain to mean the electorates, the EC and all related parties including the contestants. One of the key notes in their discussion was the accuracy of forecast data which they believe can affect the entire supply chain. That is to say wrong or accurate forecast data will have a reflective effect on the resources provision. A typical example can be the shortage of ballot papers as exposed in the Australian Electoral supply chain. It is therefore advisable for the Electoral commission of Ghana to ensure that the overall quantities are estimated on the basis of the number of registered voters plus a contingency or allowance to reflect appropriate provision of corresponding resources such as labor in a form of officers, security etc, ballot papers, boxes indelible inks, transport and other logistics. For transparency purpose as required in every supply chain, the contingency or allowance percentage for shipping damages or human error must be declared to the stakeholders within the electoral supply chain whilst strictly controlled and coordinated to avoid any losses.

Sourcing and procurement of electoral resources.

Besides demand forecasting hence efficient registration system and distribution of election materials, procumbent is the next most sensitive and cost related element within the electoral supply chain. The sensitiveness ranges from drafting of procurement plan, realistic budget for the electoral resources, quality and timely delivery of the procurement plan and materials and efficient procurement method and supplier selection.

Electoral procurement can be designed to link the four phases of electoral process made up of Election administration, Voter registration, Election Day activities, and Results tabulation. At the designed stage the items characteristics and needs requirement of each phase will have to be taken into consideration as this will impact on the procurement methods ,tools, suppliers selection  and delivery lead time for cost savings , resources utilization and overall quality of the election.

Two issues among the many that are worthy of note at the planning stage are:

  1. Realistic budget for the electoral resources: The success of every project depends on allocated resources of which funds is paramount, hence the significance of a realistic budget. Elections can be used as a vehicle of manipulation to enrich specific individuals as any failure by the EC can be attributed to insufficient funds. For instance the Queensland senator Mr. Lazarus attributed shortages of ballot papers and boxes to reduction of AEC fund by Turnbull Government Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) when they came under intense scrutiny after July 2,2016 election . It is therefore questionable as to whether a realistic budgets emanating from spend analysis and demand forecast was submitted for approval for subsequent procurement of ballot materials.The approved GH1.2 billion budget for 2016 general elections by the Parliament of Ghana came under great criticism by Ghana international donor partners who believe the average $45 per person as against $32 of Nigeria is on a higher side.
  2. Drawing of Specification or scope of work :

Packaging requirement specification for complex material is also worthy of note. For example, an estimated demand of 1000 ballots for a polling station may require a packaging specification of books of 50-100, wrapped, boxed and sequentially label visibly in sets of 500-1000. Such level of detail in specification will simplify the distribution processes whilst simultaneously facilitating efficiency, traceability and other requirement for forward and reverse logistics. Packaging of fragile materials and the requirement for training and technical support for complex equipment should also be specified clearly.

Ballot Papers with specials watermarks are usually ideal; however it can be substituted with simple procedure of ballot papers at the point of issue if the cost is unbearable. The security of voter registration can also be improved by the use of photographic identification and finger printing, tamper-proof lamination of cards.

Selection of appropriate security features for election materials is a crucial aspect of procurement as this will aid easily duplication, identification and tempering of complex or sensitive ballot materials. That is to say the tampering or fake sensitive materials should be immediately ostensible when seen. Notwithstanding quality or key controls procedures, the uses of padlocks on ballot boxes are internationally not recommended. Temper proof seals and envelopes, special prints, sequential numbered seals and documents securing packaging, storage and distribution of registration list, voter register, tabulated results etc. are recommended.

Complex materials which required much control can be procured from a more restrictive procurement method. Among such materials include ballots, ballot boxes, security inks, registration cards, security seals, tamper-proof envelopes, material distribution and recovery tracking forms.

The non-complex materials such as notebooks, pens and pencils, pencil sharpeners, paper clips, staplers, scissors, laminates, banners, voting screens, etc may be procured through competitive tender or reverse auction for cost reduction purposes. Although such items are usually imported, sourcing them locally is advisable as it will seek to promote indigenous companies. It is therefore advisable if possible to avoid international funding that will require the commission to procure from specific country.

Avoidance of Vague or incomplete specifications- too general specification may lead to misinterpretation, or substitute that may not function well under the expected condition or requirement. It is advisable to integrate and categorize all required resources both human and material under complex or non-complex. In doing so, the interrelationship and the overlaps for security, cost reduction, lead time and optimization requirement under each of the four phases must be considered. The categorization will aid the selection of procurement method, tools and type of suppliers to be used.

Logistics management.

From the above given definition of supply chain, logistics is what remains when all the procurement related activities are taken out.  The relative significant of  logistics  in every  economy, industry or an organization is enormous  as it  makes  extensive use of human and materials resources  and  contribute about 30% and 12-21%  of working population and   GDP in developing countries.  Logistics encompasses transportation, warehousing, inventory management, delivery, return management which is usually called reverse logistics and other related activities.

Similarly to wars, a successful election is impossible without a well plan and managed logistics system. Timely movement of all resources and recovery of sensitive materials at the right time and in right quantities to the right locations are crucial for a successful election since too early or late delivery may impact on Voter confidence and security.  Late arrival of election resources can also impact significantly on voter turnout especially in areas where the floating voter rate is high.  There is believed that the least frustration experienced by a floating voter may result him/her not voting. For instance Gwarinpa Primary School polling station in Abuja recorded low voters turnout due to late at start of accreditation.

As witnessed in Western Australia, incorrect distribution of ballot materials between voters in Pearce and Victorian Senate caused 105 votes in Pearce to be invalidated.  Think of the effect of 105 votes on December 7, presidential or parliamentary elections.  Although some readers and citizens may believe it to be a manipulative act, such blunder can be attributed an unforgivable error or inefficiency existed in their distribution plan and service delivery.

A well plan Logistics system that detail and coordinate all delivery at each stage should be able to arrest and rectify such errors ether at the main distribution or cross dock center before final delivery actually takes place.   The detail plan is advocated to include, resources leveling (both security and other human resources inclusive  as in project management) , storage and deployment  requirements,  transport mode, vehicle type  and optimization  analysis, traceability , tracking  and other communication requirements,  inventory control  and  return management plan. It must however be noted that once size cannot fit all and as such specific pol\ling station resources requirement must be taking into consideration at the planning stage of logistics system.

Administrative and Ethical Principles

All successful supply chains are founded on effective administrative and ethical principles. The management of other resources in every supply chain is by qualified, well-trained and motivated professionals who have respect for socio culture and ethical principles. The integrity of all professionals involve in the electoral supply chain is crucial for the legitimacy of the electoral process. It is therefore incumbent upon all professionals to exercise due diligence in the performance of their role and avoid minor errors such as lack of initials by appropriate official on some ballot paper or separation of voter register sheet from its correct container as witnessed in July 2016 in the Australian Electoral supply chain. It is unforgivable for the AEC to admit and maintained the lapses were purely administrative matter hence count integrity was not affected. The author believe there is an element of unethical practices  in the above reactions of the Australian Electoral Commission and for that matter one will be forgiven to insinuate that  the inefficiencies exhibited in  AEC supply chain was a prearranged act designed to aid a favored candidate.  Nevertheless most supply chain practitioners of which am one, will attribute it to supply chain issues but not intentional or a plan act to favor a candidate.

The ethical principles detailed by The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Code of Conduct which requires showing respect for the law , nonpartisan , transparency and accuracy is therefore advice.


Although we were not concise and direct for reasons of reader’s creativity and inferences, it is believe that one can appreciate the effect of supply chain on elections and consequential effect on socio economic development of a country. It is therefore recommended that a study be conducted to assess the maturity level of electoral supply chain in Ghana.

Credit:05731ad  Kwabena Sarpong Anning

             Supply Chain Manager at Netis GH limited