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Report

Elections in pandemic. Scenarios

Elections must be organized in 2020 and the electoral administration must ensure safety for all participants. EFOR launches a public debate and proposes a list of potential solutions that can support the electoral authorities and the Government in the decision-making process. 

Given the current situation, it is clear that not only the election day needs to be redesigned, but also the entire electoral process. The pandemic will certainly affect the registration of candidates, the election campaign, party financing, voter registration or election observation.

Whatever changes take place at legislative or practical level, decision-makers should take into account several principles:

  • Legislative amendments should be transparent and participative and remain within the framework of the constitution and international commitments (OSCE, GRECO etc.). Although some urgent changes are needed, key voter rights issues must not be amended by Government emergency ordinances. All stakeholders should be involved and consulted. Stability and predictability are essential principles.
  • Political parties should take decisions as soon as possible on the date and principles of elections, while the electoral authorities should develop action plans and scenarios regarding the technical issues of the electoral process based on consultations with medical experts. The pandemic situation should not be used as a shield for following political priorities against public interest
  • Voting should ensure the safety of all those involved. Processes such as collecting supporting signatures, reviewing voters lists, training members of the electoral administration should be done as much as possible through online methods and electronic instruments.
  • No significant reforms should be introduced during pandemic. The principle also applies to voting methods (electronic voting, postal voting extended to all voters) that cannot be properly piloted under these circumstances
  • Voting methods should not create advantages or disadvantages for a certain category of voters or an electoral competitor.
  • The electoral process should ensure the participation of as many voters as possible and should be inclusive. Voting in a majoritarian system with a single round in the local elections already leads to turnout and low representation, therefore political parties, civil society and electoral authorities shouldensure that the 2020 elections will not further accentuate this issue
  • Elections should remain competitive. The methods need to reflect the current state of affairs, without affecting electoral competition or transparency. Competitors should have fair access to radio / TV, under more flexible conditions, and the rules on campaign financing could allow for higher allocations of funds for the mass media and online channels. Rules for outdoor campaigning could be more flexible in order to provide a better access to citizens. Also, political parties should act in a responsible manner in terms of contact and education of voters, maintaining high transparency and organizing disinformation-free campaigns
  • Party and campaign financing remain a high priority in the framework of the electoral process and transparency, as well as safety in following reporting procedures should be ensured. Introducing new online tools should include consultations with political parties and enhanced assistance from the Permanent Electoral Authority
  • Adapted and constant information of voters and potential members of the electoral administration on new measures and how to prevent infection is essential
  • Voting in polling stations should remain the main method of voting and can be extended over several days. Additional measures can be introduced:
    allocation of equipment and drafting of clear sanitation measures,
    enforcement of social distance rules,
    constant information for voters and other stakeholders,
    opening up more polling stations,
    setting up preferential intervals for vulnerable categories,
    clear schedule for tabulation, transportation and centralization of documents at county level,
    setting up additional measures to allow safe voting of persons with disabilities, in hospitals, in detention or serving a sentence, as well as for those confirmed or suspect of illness
  • Transparency of the process is essential, so the procedure for accrediting observers and delegates should be simplified and secure conditions for their presence in polling stations should be provided by authorities

Read the full list of recommendations in our report:

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Online conference – May 13

Expert Forum organized an online debate gathering experts, electoral authorities in Romania and Moldova and other institutions involved in organizing elections (Ministry of Foregin Affairs, Romanian Post, Institute of Statistics, Special Telecommunication Service, international organizations (OSCE/ODIHR, RAI), as well as other stakeholders in order to discuss about potential scenarios for the Romanian elections in 2020. Mr. Constantin-Florin Mitulețu-Buică, the President of the Romanian Permanent Electoral Authority and Mr. Dorin Cimil, President of Central Electoral Commission of Republic of Moldova took part in the event. The PEA present some of the measures that have been taken to organize the local and parliamentary elections.

The interventions of the IFES guest speakers can be found below:

Septimius Parvu, Electoral Expert (EFOR) – Organizing elections in Romania during pandemic

See main topics of presentation above and in the Powerpoint presentation.

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Katherine Ellena, Senior Global Advisor, Legal IFES – legal aspects of pandemic

– We must turn our attention in organizing elections to ensuring participation and inclusiveness of elections.
–  Many countries had as a first reaction the postponement of elections (58 cases and territories) as the case of Romania. Postponement is not against international standards, but should be proportional and under certain limitations. Postponing elections has been a problematic issue in many countries given constitutional constraints that either do not allow for an extension; in some cases where the electoral process had already begun, the extension was not a solution, which is why the electoral process had to be restarted from voter registration (Spain). In some countries the legislative silence may be an issue. In other countries the decision is also a challenge: is it up to the EMB, the Parliament or the Executive? In such situations, transparency and communication are crucial.
–  Another perspective refers to modifications and adaptation. There are two possible actions: either a new voting system is implemented or the current voting system is adapted. Modification may be easier in a crisis.
–  Such situation presents advantages, such as the opportunity to introduce special measures that can be beneficial in the future (for example, expanded postal voting, advanced voting or more days to vote), after we get out of the pandemic, but also disadvantages, such as the risk of manipulating the law in a negative sense, restricting the right to vote. By adapting the electoral system, we must ensure that we preserve and prioritize elements such as legislative stability and clarity or inclusiveness. The case of Poland shows us exactly why the complete change of the system is not beneficial and why we need transparency and communication.
– When considering modification, it is important to see where the rules stand (Constitution, law, decisions etc) and what is the administrative flexibility. For example, South Korea already had previsions in the legislation that could be extended (for example postal voting)
– Modifications are needed in the entire process, not just related to the Election Day.

Dr. Magnus Ohman, Director, Regional Europe Office and Senior Political Finance Adviser, IFES – Party and campaign financing during pandemic

  • During this period, attention on political financing is lower, although the issue is as important as ever. Therefore, we must ensure that we bring to the attention of citizens on certain aspects that we overlook in the pandemic, such as party financing and the election campaign.
  • When it comes to ongoing funding of political parties and oversight, the impact of the pandemic is rather limited and we do not see any major changes to the way we operate until now. Publishing annual reports is in place in most countries, with few exceptions such as Serbia. More problematic can be countries where reports are submitted on a regular basis such as Ukraine and Moldova
  • When it comes to financing the election campaign, there are online solutions in place; still, it must be done carefully and include consultations with the entities that have to submit the reports. The type of campaigning will change due to the pandemic, with less offline events and more use of advertising. Monitoring may be easier – especially broadcast advertising compared to rallies or door to door. Monitoring online advertising is difficult, especially in relation with international media platforms.
  • There is a high risk that governments will used pandemic to promote their interests. It is essential that institutions overseeing state abuses carefully monitor the situation and act in case of violation. Many case of abuse are not against the letter of the law and reform maybe needed.
  • Dialogue is needed about the behavior of political actors in our society

 

Dr. Staffan Darnolf, Senior Global Electoral Operations and Administration Advisor, IFES – Safeguarding health and elections

 

  • IFES published the report “Safeguarding health and elections” , in consultation with public health experts.
  • Covid-19 is transmitted mostly by direct transmission, but when it comes to elections we must focus especially on indirect transmission, given the number of hours / days in which the virus resists on various surfaces. Thus we must pay attention to the procedures we put into practice regarding the management of ballot papers, stamps, electoral register, etc.
  • EMBs have to collaborate with the public health institutions. The first step is to make a health risk assessment that should also include less visible aspects such access to offices, warehouses etc. Secondly, EMBs have to develop a risk mitigation plan, which may be different for each country. Thirdly, EMBs have to updated operational plans, including budgets (for example South Korea spent 20 million USD on protection equipment).
  • Education becomes critical and must include procedures and issues on COVID 19. An improper education campaign may also have effects on ensuring sufficient poll workers. Message have to focus on positive messages and have to be adapted to the common language.
  • Additional staff have to be recruited to enforce new measures. Medical workers and elder persons should not be recruited as electoral staff and therefore another pools of personnel should be used.
  • Proper information for members of electoral administration should be ensured on how to use protective equipment.
  • It is important not only to look at the electoral activities such as voting day but also at the things that happen “behind the scenes” such as the training of the members of the electoral commission, the counting of votes, etc. Special attention must be paid to the place where we conduct the elections (size, number of voters, how we control the queues), but also how we can introduce voting methods for the category of voters who cannot be physically present in the polling stations.
  • Several measure can be taken: voting spaces should be organized to ensure distancing (ex: dedicated doors for entry and exit), circuits within polling stations, longer voting periods. In some cases, Plexiglas has been installed to separate the voter from the commission; in other cases an exchange table has been installed to identify voters.
  • Postal services may be affected by COVID, therefore postal vote may not be function properly. Newly introduced measures can affect the organization the voting in polling station. It could be introduced just for specific categories of voters.
  • Factors that need to be considered when planning new measures: disease status and transmission, coordination with health authorities, effective communication with citizens, ability to procure necessary materials and supplies, ability to implement new procedures on time, ability to maintain the level of citizen participation.
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Meredith Applegate, Program Adviser, Ukraine, IFES – Internet voting in pandemics

  • IFES recently  published a report on Internet voting .
  • There are 5 questions to ask about electronic voting:
    1) What is the cost? The claim that electronic voting costs less is skeptical, given that such results can only be seen in the long run. In the short term, even larger investments may be needed.
    2) Does it improve participation? Electronic voting does not necessarily lead to a higher turnout of citizens with the right to vote. (example: Norway)
    3) Does it make the democratic process more efficient? It depends a lot on the country’s infrastructure and the country’s legal framework. In some scenarios, the electoral process can be difficult, for example if we look at the role of observers.
    4) Is there enough confidence in this system? Although public opinion can be positive, people do not feel safe online and would not trust electronic voting. A lot of work and training needs to be done to change people’s mindset about online voting.
    5) Is there a system to ensure system security? A plan needs to be drawn up on the vulnerabilities of the system and how they can be overcome. Attention must also be paid to the secrecy of the vote and the pressure on voters (example: domestic violence).
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The event is part of a project supported by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and is implemented by Expert Forum in partnership with the CEELI Institute – Central and Eastern European Law Initiative and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

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