How Covid-19 is affecting elections worldwide
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, in many countries, voting processes are scheduled to be held this year. Electoral authorities of each country have done everything possible so that elections are held, of course, taking the corresponding health and security measures. In some cases, the voting processes have already been held successfully, but in others these have been postponed and it is not yet known how they will be carried out.
In this sense, it seems interesting to analyze how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected elections worldwide. In my opinion, the pandemic has affected electoral processes from three points of view: (a) as for the election itself, (b) as for the candidates, and (c) as for the voters.
As for the election itself
The holding of the electoral process as such has been affected by the pandemic as it adds new logistical implications in terms of organizing and coordinating said events. .
First, because, as it is well known, elections involve the gathering of people in voting centers, which increases the risk of contagion of the virus among citizens. And second, due to the measures of restrictions on the free movement of people that various governments have taken with the aim of mitigating the levels of contagion of Covid-19, it is difficult for citizens to go to the voting centers to cast their votes.
From this perspective, the holding of elections has clearly been affected. But not all countries are in the same situation. In some countries, leaders have managed to handle this crisis with great success, while in others, they have failed to control and mitigate the effects of Covid-19. Hence, depending on the country in question, the pandemic has affected the holding of elections to a greater or lesser extent.
As an example of the first case, that is, of countries in which the pandemic has affected the holding of electoral processes to a lesser extent, New Zealand can be mentioned. In said country, general elections were originally scheduled to take place on September 19th, but during the month of August, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the elections were to be postponed for a month. It was not until a few days ago, specifically, on October 17th that said general elections were held without major problems.
The same happened in Bolivia, where on October 18th presidential elections were successfully held with the corresponding sanitary measures. These general elections were initially scheduled for May 3rd, but due to the emergency of Covid-19, they were postponed twice (for September 6th and then definitively for October 18th).
In contrast, among the countries whose elections have been affected the most is the United States. In said nation, the rate of infected and deceased due to Covid-19 increases more every day. This situation has cast doubt on whether or not the presidential elections should be held in November.
In light of the above, alternative mechanisms have been proposed to voting in person, such as casting the ballot by mail, but such an alternative has not been well received by the community, mainly because of the lack of confidence of the citizens in the American postal service. As early as the end of July, even President Trump himself had suggested that the November presidential elections be postponed since voting by mail could lead to fraud or inaccurate results. However, this decision depends on the approval of Congress, since the president does not have the power to make such a decision. So it seems that the elections will take place on the scheduled date.
The case of Venezuela is also worth mentioning as an example of the second situation. According to the Venezuelan Constitution, parliamentary elections are to be held at the end of this year but, due to the pandemic and other political and legal causes, most citizens have decided not to participate in them. Even more so when the infection and mortality rates increase exponentially every day.
Certainly, many countries have found it necessary to postpone their electoral processes due to the pandemic, not only at the national level but also at the legislative, state and even local levels, until adequate sanitary conditions that ensure the well-being of the population are guaranteed. Likewise, it should be noted that not only electoral processes have been affected but also other events of a similar nature, such as popular consultations and referendums, as is the case for example, in Mexico and Chile, respectively.
As for the candidates
Like the electoral process itself, candidates have also been affected by the pandemic. Due to the restrictions and sanitary measures taken by governments, as well as the risk of contagion or infection, electoral rallies have had to be modified or even canceled. Political propaganda has been hampered.
The candidates cannot and have not been able to carry out large-scale events with the participation of citizens who support their candidacies and political projects. Health and safety measures have had to be taken to hold these types of events, which has led to a reduction in the presence of voters.
In addition to this, there is the fact that such events pose a greater risk of contagion for the candidate himself by having to appear, speak and interact with a multitude of people. Certainly, the celebration of these types of events will depend on the levels of infection in certain countries, but in those nations where the situation has not been successfully contained, the rescheduling and cancellation of electoral rallies has become common. In this way, Covid-19 can affect and influence the results in the elections that are carried out worldwide.
As for the voters
There is no doubt that the issue of Covid-19 is present in the minds of all voters. The handling of the pandemic has become the subject of discussion among candidates and voters. It has already been seen how in most electoral debates, candidates are asked what actions will they take to control the pandemic and voters are looking forward to a dignified and convincing response that earns their vote. The influence that the pandemic has or has had, in some cases, on citizens when choosing which candidate to vote for is evident.
Voters will seek to elect the candidate who, not only best represents their political ideals, but also the person capable of leading the country during a crisis of this magnitude. In this way, the candidate who is opting for re-election may be favored or disadvantaged since the handling of the crisis will have a lot of weight when citizens cast their vote. Let's look at two concrete examples of this situation.
An example of how the Covid-19 crisis affected the decision of the voters and favored the candidate who opted for re-election occurred in New Zealand where, as I indicated above, general elections were recently held. Without wishing to delve into the voting system that governs this country, suffice it to mention that voters must choose both the members of parliament and the political party they want to govern the nation. In this sense, according to most polls, only two political parties dominated the contest, namely: the Labour Party led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the National Party led by Judith Collins.
Before the arrival of Covid-19, the only thing that was on the minds of voters were the campaign promises not kept by the Prime Minister during her government. However, with the arrival of the pandemic, another idea arose in the heads of voters which greatly influenced the electoral results: Covid-19. Voters began to focus more on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government's handling of the crisis rather than on her unfulfilled campaign promises. As it is well known, Ardern's response to Covid-19 has been and is one of the greatest examples of how a leader should behave in a crisis of this magnitude. In my opinion, this led the Labour Party and, consequently, Prime Minister Ardern into winning the re-election.
In contrast, as an example of how the Covid-19 crisis is affecting the decision of voters and can disadvantage the candidate who opts for re-election is the case of the United States. At the beginning of the year, it seemed certain that President Trump was winning the re-election, but recent polls seem to indicate otherwise. This, in large measure, due to the inefficient handling of the crisis by the Trump administration, which has led to high levels of unemployment, infections and deaths nationwide. Faced with such a situation, the opposition candidate to Trump, Democrat Joe Biden has been favored, since voters could rely on him to take the reins of the country and handle the situation in a more effective way.
In short, I think that this type of situation shows how important the election, the candidacies and their political projects all are. It shows the necessity to take electoral processes with absolute seriousness. Although the pandemic has caused numerous deaths and infections, I believe that it can also serve as a reminder to citizens that, when choosing between candidates who are opting for important public positions in society, they must elect the person with the sufficient qualities to govern or to legislate. They must choose the person capable of leading the country during a crisis and ensuring the general welfare of citizens.
The pandemic is, in the end, a warning to all about the importance of electing and having world leaders who are well prepared and trained to respond to situations of extreme urgency.
Juan Andres Miralles is a lawyer from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Caracas, Venezuela) currently working in private practice and is co-editor of The Explorer. You can find him on Linkedin at Juan Andres Miralles Quintero.