Comparative Assessment of Central Electoral Agencies
Appendix D – Theoretical Advantages and Disadvantages of a Single-Headed Agency Versus a Multi-Member Commission
In the abstract, a single-headed agency might involve the following potential advantages:
- Clearly focused responsibility and accountability
- Unified leadership and direction
- Greater efficiency in decision-making
- Lower costs
The disadvantages might include:
- Too much reliance on the character and judgment of a single individual
- Less opportunity for debate and collective deliberation
- Less potential for specialized knowledge and mastery of different functions
- Susceptibility to "political capture" because only one individual, rather than several, will be exposed to political pressures
The advantages and disadvantages of a multi-member commission are in most respects the reverse of a single-headed agency. The advantages include:
- A commission would allow different background expertise and different perspectives to be represented.
- There would be a requirement for debate, particularly in relation to controversial issues.
- A process of mutual constraint among members would discourage them from adopting extreme positions.
- Members could specialize in different electoral functions.
The potential disadvantages include:
- Members might be appointed on grounds other than knowledge of and experience with the election rules.
- Frequent turnover in membership could result in a lack of stability and continuity.
- Decision-making could be slower because of the need to reach a consensus or secure enough votes to act.
- The authority and leadership skills of the chair could be crucial for creative, collegial and timely decision-making.
- There might be confusion about whether the professional staff served the chair or the entire commission.
- The cost of operating a commission might be higher than those of a single-headed agency.
These may be the theoretical possibilities, but what happens in practice will depend greatly on a range of factors, such as the backgrounds of the leaders, how they are appointed, the security of their tenure, the EMB's budgetary and staffing procedures and how it is held accountable by other parts of the political system.