Do we keep postponing election?

It is essential that election management bodies (EMBs) and public authorities around the world make well-informed decisions with the inputs of health authorities. These decisions might vary depending on each country’s public health capabilities, level of spread of the disease, and other contextual factors.

Countries have also seen beyond postponing elections. Some countries have pushed to see how the fundamentals of democratic values such as the right to vote and to be voted for can be ensured without endangering the lives of the citizen who will participate in the elections and election workers who will ensure all processes are seamless. Eleven countries held elections even in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic (see figure 4). However, mitigating measures were taken to conceal the spread of the virus; many countries also considered modifications to how elections are conducted, including but not limited to introducing or expanding postal voting. Discussions about internet voting[1] also have gained momentum. In all, these means indelible ink and other voting alternatives can still be used safely in a time the world is facing global pandemics.

 COUNTRIES THAT HELD ELECTIONS RECENTLY, WHAT DID THEY DO DIFFERENTLY

S/N COUNTRIES / TYPE OF ELECTION ELECTION DATE MITIGATION MEASURE TAKEN
1 Israel / Israeli General Elections 4 March 2020 ·   Quarantined individuals voted at separate, tented-off polling locations.

·   Paramedics “dressed in head-to-toe protective gear

·   Election officials sat behind sheeted plastic to ensure voting operations went smoothly while staying protected.

2 France / French Municipal Elections March 15 2020 ·      Proxy voting is permitted in France.

·         Quarantined, PWDs, Sick individuals had police come to them to vote

·         Physical distancing (at least one meter away from each other at all times).

·         Voters came along with their pens to avoid transmitting the virus that way

·         Instructional posters to be affixed outside of stations.

3 Moldova, Local Elections in Hâncești – March 15, 2020 Electoral bureaus were equipped with the necessary minimum articles used for hygienic purposes.
4 Abkhazia Presidential Election March 22, 2020 No official cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Abkhazia as of March 22. However, election officials still took precautionary measures to curb the spread of the disease.

·   Voters were asked to bring their pens to the polls

·   Voters leaving the polling places were provided with hand sanitizer.

·   Polling places were disinfected ahead of the vote, and

·   Election workers provided with masks.

 

5 Canada, Shoal Lake 39 Council Election March 26, 2020

 

·      Voters were asked to use hand sanitizer upon entering and leaving the polling station

·      Physical distancing (only two voting members were allowed in the station at a time with signs warning them to keep two meters apart).

·      Voters were handed a ballot through a “cut out slit in plastic just big enough for the envelope,” which served as a protective screen for poll workers.

6 Germany, Local Elections in Bavaria March 15, 2020, and March 29, 2020 ·   Election workers wore gloves

·   Many voters brought their pens to the polls.

·   The March 29 run-off election only took place by postal vote.

 

7 Mali General Elections – March 29, 2020 ·   Voters cast their ballots while maintaining a distance from other voters.

·   Handwashing facilities were made available, but kits arrived late.

 

8 Zimbabwe Municipal Elections, Chegutu Ward

 

2 – 21 March 2020 There were no preventative measures put in place for voters, polling officials, political party agents and observers, such as hand sanitizers or water and soap to wash hands
9 Guinea Parliamentary Elections and Referendum – March 22, 2020 In response to COVID-19, some polling stations required voters to wash their hands before casting their votes

Radio stations reminded citizens to maintain their distance from other voters.

10 Australia – Local elections in Queensland March 29, 2020 ·         Hand sanitizer was provided at polling stations

·         Physical distancing  (at least 1.5meters)

·         Voters came to the polling station with their pens

·         Additional cleaning was done on the polling booth areas

·         More election staff were employed to avoid congestion and assist in managing voting lines.

THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN CONDUCTING ELECTIONS AMID COVID-19

COVID-19 came with some disturbing factors like the lack of viable vaccines, the severity, mode, and the high rate of transmission. These have left citizens with nothing but fear of the virus. Recent elections have left clues of what could likely happen if elections are conducted in this period, even post COVID-19 era.

 LOW TURNOUT

Fear of infection arguably contributed to the historically low voter turnout in France: Total voter turnout dropped from 63.5 percent in 2014 to around 46 percent in 2020.[2] Iran on Sunday announced a 42% turnout in its parliamentary election, the lowest rate since the 1979 Islamic revolution.[3] In the United States as well, turnout in some Democratic primaries was arguably strongly affected. In Illinois, voter turnout decreased by 25 percent in comparison with the 2016 primary.

The best that could happen in a democratic election is a high turnout of voters and equal levels of participation across the segments of the society. There is a risk that the decision to continue to hold an election as initially scheduled, despite the pandemic outbreak, could result into low voter turnout.

SHORTAGE OF OFFICIALS

There is a high likelihood that poll workers may fear infection or get infected and, therefore, not assume their critical roles. Shortage of (qualified) poll workers may lead to technical shortfalls.  In Ohio, Electionofficialsls struggled to recruit additional poll workers ahead of its primary elections after hundreds dropped out fearing COVID-19.[4] The Ohio elections ended up being postponed a few hours before polls were supposed to open. Election commissions’ efforts to send cleaning supplies and protective gear to poll workers such as gloves and masks seem insufficient to dissipate the fear of getting infected.

ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION

Election observation has been proven across the globe to be a fundamental way to ensure electoral integrity. A way to engage citizens in the election process and provide an accurate measure of the quality of elections. Election observation help to promote confidence in the electoral process and outcome as well as provide recommendations for improving the process for the next election. Election observers serve as impartial watchdogs who can assess whether the results of an election genuinely reflect the will of the people. However, if travel restrictions related to COVID-19 persist during elections, election observation missions will be limited.

ADEQUATE PREPARATION CAN AVERT THIS.

Now more than ever, election commissions around the world need sound advice and technical assistance to navigate the complexity of each election context. They need to consider all relevant public health and political factors and make workable decisions to safeguard voters and electoral processes.

  • The first critical step would be to undertake a thorough risk assessment of the electoral processes from a public health perspective. Identify practical measures to create a sufficiently safe environment for an election to move forward. This cannot be done in isolation, as it requires credible public health expertise and buy-in from across the political divide. Elections are inherently political events, and, as so, a country’s decision to go to the polls during or in the immediate aftermath of a pandemic should be based on a shared understanding of its risks and benefits.
  • Election commissions need now to issue detailed guidelines on voting and voting processes; Measures to be taken on Election Day for polling and counting, such as voting materials and the physical layout of polling stations.
  • Election officials should be well trained on the process and as well as how to ensure their safety. Their composition and selection process should be well managed; additional staff should be considered;
  • Health and safety routines can be incorporated into election-related procedures, to protect election staff and voters.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as face mask, gloves, and hand sanitizer should be provided at the voting venues.
  • Hand washing facility should be provided for frequent handwashing with a proper drainage system
  • Safety guideline posters should be affixed on surfaces around the polling stations
  • Physical distancing measures should strictly be observed.
  • There should be aggressive voter education towards ensuring active participation, combat infodemic, and misinformation around COVID-19.
  • For logistic arrangement; all materials should be disinfected
  • The process of amendment to the constitution or the electoral legal framework should be considered by countries that do not have voting alternatives such as postal voting, Internet and or electronic voting system.

ALTERNATIVE CAN BE CONSIDERED IN HOW ELECTORAL EVENTS ARE DONE

If public health instructions are meant to avoid gatherings and proximity to other persons as in the case of COVID-19. Participation in elections could be a bit difficult in an in-person or manual-based election, where the act of voting requires the physical presence of voters.

Alternative mechanisms of campaigning: Political parties and their candidates need to organize their efforts to seek vote or influence voters. This is expressed in campaign rallies, door-to-door canvassing, and town hall meetings. These are an essential part of a vibrant and inclusive democracy because it gives voters to assess manifestos of different political parties and their candidates. In the advent of COVID-19 or other emergencies, electoral campaigns can be conducted on the Internet and through social media platforms. All these platforms offer an alternative options when electorates and political contestants have their movement restricted or are required to maintain a recommended physical distance between each other.

Alternative to in-person voting methods: Alternative to in-person voting is essential now that the world is facing a global pandemic that requires physical distancing and lack of social contact to be concealed. Discussion on voting arrangements that allow citizens to cast their votes remotely needs to be intensified. Some advanced democracies have employed postal voting (mail), or online through a computer or mobile phone application. France allows proxy voting. All of these alternatives exist and developing democracies could take a clue from existing alternatives to design a system that could mitigate health or security hazards presented by voting in person. All these voting alternatives are designed to complement, not replace, in-person voting at a polling station.

However, the electoral laws may exclude their introduction. The timing to amend such laws may be a hindrance to the swift deployment of the mechanism. Other factors that could prohibit the introduction of exiting voting alternatives include financial costs; implementation timeframes may be insufficient for adequate preparation, procurement, and training.

Voters will need to be informed about the latest development, such as any new voting methods that have been adopted. The most popular media platforms need to be maximized in reaching out to citizens during this period that movement is restricted. These platforms include traditional channels, such as national TV and radio, but also the Internet and social media platforms.

Download the e-copy of the Technical Brief (Volume 3) – Do we need to keep postponing elections?

[1] https://www.ifes.org/publications/considerations-internet-voting-overview-electoral-decision-makers

[2] https://www.ifes.org/news/low-voter-turnouts-fear-disinformation-and-disrupted-supply-chains

[3] Iran announces low poll turnout, blames coronavirus ‘propaganda’ Reuters World News FEBRUARY 23, 2020 / 10:36 AM

[4] https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200312/ohioelections-boards-frantically-seeking-poll-workers-due-to-coronavirus-outbreak

 

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