Safeguarding Health and Elections: IFES COVID-19 Briefing Series

Elections usually involve large, nationwide gatherings, not only on Election Day but also, for example, during campaign rallies and voter registration drives. These events increase human-to-human contact and the risks of direct and indirect disease transmission. Few election management bodies (EMBs) have comprehensive plans in place to manage these activities amid widespread disease outbreaks, leading to insufficient time, resources and information to make necessary adjustments and hold election events safely when public health crises suddenly materialize. This has proven to be the case with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has, to this date, forced the postponement of national and subnational elections in nearly 60 countries and territories. Several EMBs that did decide to move forward with elections amid the crisis largely failed to address public concerns about health, leading to low voter turnouts, credibility issues, poll worker dropouts and even the infection of some electoral officials.

To support EMBs around the world to navigate such complex environments, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), in collaboration with Management Sciences for Health (MSH), has drafted this paper focusing on general public health considerations for all key electoral processes and recommendations to mitigate risks of the COVID-19 virus transmission. The recommendations presented in this white paper have been informed by general guidance from health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most recent evidence and scientific studies at the time of publication and best practices and successful measures implemented by EMBs in similar contexts.
This paper is part of an IFES COVID-19 Briefing Series looking at seven fundamental areas of concern for democracy and governance in the wake of the pandemic.