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IDEA Mensenrechten Nieuwsbericht

Adapting Elections to COVID: five key questions for decision makers

The global spread of Covid-19 has already profoundly impacted the health and welfare of citizens around the world. Decisions being made about how elections are run during the pandemic will have a further profound effect, shaping the health of democracy in the future.

Many policy makers have responded to the pandemic by postponing elections, with at least fifty-five countries and territories between February and May 2020, rescheduling the polls.  Postponing an election is not quite as undemocratic as it sounds but others have forged on by trying to adapt elections to the pandemic – or are actively trying to find ways to do this.  This has included proposals to hold all-postal elections in Poland, encouraging early voting in South Korea or the use of protective clothing by electoral officials in Israel.  A coalition of US academics have set out proposals for fair elections in November 2020.

Decisions are usually best made to suit local circumstances and pressures.  There are some universal questions that we can ask about the running of elections, however.  In a recent book on Comparative Electoral Management I set out a framework for evaluating the running of elections. This framework is set out in full in chapter 4, which is free to download here (p.61-71).   This framework can also be used to consider the merits – or otherwise – of the reforms being put forward.

The starting point is that elections are not entirely different in nature to other public services such as schools and hospitals.  Some of the tools that have been used to assess them can therefore be adapted to assess how elections are run.  At the heart of the electoral process, however, is democracy.  David Beetham’s focus on a democratic society as one where the key principles of political quality and popular control of government are achieved therefore provides a normative anchor for how we should assess the electoral process.  The framework sets out five dimensions of electoral management that are essential for democratic ideals (Figure 1 and Table 1).

Figure 1: The PROSeS Framework.  Source: James (2020: p.61).

Table 1: The PROSeS matrix for evaluating electoral management. Source: James (2020: p.66).

Firstly, we should focus on the decision-making processes in place for electoral management bodies.  If elections are going to be made for COVID the question is not just what decision is made, but how that decision is made and by whom?  Good electoral management requires that these decisions are not just made behind closed doors by senior electoral officials – or that a small clique of politicians dictate new rules from Parliament.  There should be widespread consultation and public involvement.  In emergency situations the extensiveness of public deliberations can often curtailed by time, but a wide variety of stakeholders should be consulted and a digital society now enables calls for views from the public, focus groups and public polls.  The probity of the decisions made and accountability mechanisms in place should be considered too.

Secondly, the resourcing of any reforms is vitally important.  A decision, for example, to switch from holding elections in person at a polling station to rely on mail-in ballots is going to have a major consequence for staffing levels, working practices, postage and printing costs.  Who is going to pay for this?  When?  Do electoral officials have sufficient financial resources, staff and equipment to implement the reforms?  The sufficiency of this funding is vitally important so that electoral officials don’t find themselves with cash crises during the electoral process – or find themselves with unfunded blackholes afterwards.   We should expect the unexpected.  The availability of contingency funds is therefore vitally important too. 

Thirdly, the quality of services to the citizen have an obvious importance.  ‘Put the voter first’ is a common mantra for electoral services around the world – but there is a major risk that the service provided will be compromised during these difficult times.  Convenience is critically important.  Information about how to vote should be readily available and the process as simple and streamlined as possible.  Accuracy is critical.  The pressures on electoral officials will be immense, but there should be no compromises when voters consider whether their vote had been counted.  Putting the voter first also means enforcing the rules against them and their fellow citizens.  If polling stations are required to close at 7pm then they should close at 7pm.  If postal votes need to have been received by a certain date, then that date should be absolute. 

Fourthly, the likely effects of any COVID reforms should be mapped against service outcomes.  The service outcomes for private companies are usually profit, share value and revenue.  When it comes to the implementation of the electoral process service outcomes are no less relevant.  They would include voter turnout.  Elections held during a pandemic are likely to be hit by a drop in turnout because citizens might be reluctant to travel to the poll and there is therefore a strong case for compensatory mechanisms to ensure inclusive elections.  Electoral officials, of course, are unable to shape this key metric alone as it depends on many factors.  But how the election is run is one of them.  The accuracy and completeness of the electoral register are essential for well-run elections and many countries rely on the canvassing of properties to keep registers accurate.  However, South Africa was amongst many countries to have to suspend voter registration initiatives in response to the pandemic leaving the register likely to be affected.   How reforms might shape the volume of rejected ballot papers, levels of electoral fraud, possible service denial or ignite violence all need measurement and consideration too.

Fifth, stakeholder satisfaction is crucial to the electoral process.  Citizens are one obvious stakeholder and their satisfaction with any reforms that are made should therefore be considered and monitored.  Satisfaction amongst parties and civil society is crucial for ensuring support in the democratic system and is likely to require cross-party working.  Often forgotten is the level of staff satisfaction amongst the electoral officials on the ground.  Staff satisfaction matters for instrumental reasons. The effects are commonly thought to include improved retention and performance. There are also moral reasons: organisations have a duty of care towards their employees – especially where there could be physical risks to their health during the pandemic.

There are no easy solutions for policy makers through these logistical and moral mazes when decisions have to be made within short time frames.  It is clear, however, that the election will affect all citizens, civil society groups and political actors.  Better decisions will therefore be made where the decision-making process is as inclusive and consultative as possible.  And anchoring decisions against democratic principles is imperative.

Categorieën
IDEA Mensenrechten Nieuwsbericht

The COVID-19 Electoral Landscape in Africa

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this commentary are those of the author, who is a staff member of International IDEA. This commentary is independent of specific national or political interests. Views expressed do not necessarily represent the institutional position of International IDEA, its Board of Advisers or its Council of Member States.

Burundians will go to the polls on 20 May 2020 for presidential, legislative and local elections in spite of the risks posed by the coronavirus. As of 17 May, there were 27 confirmed cases of coronavirus and one death in the country, but the total figure of cases is believed to be higher. Since late April, large scale campaign events have taken place throughout the country without much attention to social distancing practices. This despite concerns voiced by the World Health Organization (WHO) which was on 12 May 2020 asked to immediately leave the country. In the meantime, the government has also asked that all foreign election observers to be quarantined for a 14-day period.

What does the pandemic mean for the electoral landscape in Africa, with 23 national elections scheduled in 22 African countries in 2020? For the rests of the year, there are elections scheduled to take place in Malawi (presidential), in July; Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guinea (presidential), Liberia, Niger, Seychelles and Tanzania. It is not certain whether the elections in Chad, Central Africa Republic (CAR), Gabon, Somalia and Somaliland will take place as scheduled because these countries are faced with broader security and political challenges, now complicated by the pandemic.

Changes to scheduled elections

In early May, the chief electoral officer of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), South Africa stated, “there is no doubt that the post-COVID-19 electoral landscape will be significantly different in many respects.” These words were expressed at a time when the IEC postponed 30 municipal by-elections and voter registration activities until 1 June 2020, to mitigate the risk of further contagion and the likelihood of a low voter turnout. The IEC further mentioned in case the risks of cross contamination of people does not dissipate, the municipal elections scheduled to take place in 2021 may be affected.

According to International IDEA Global Overview of COVID-19: Impact on elections a total of eight countries have decided to postpone national and subnational elections planned in March up until August 2020. This includes subnational elections in Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda, Zimbabwe as well as national elections in Ethiopia. Many of these postponements were decided on by the respective governments, legislatures or Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs), based on emergency response frameworks. In the case of Ethiopia, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia consulted with political parties on the impact of COVID-19 which resulted in a broad political consensus regarding the postponement of the election.

During the same period, 4 countries have held national or subnational elections. This includes Guinea (22 March), Cameroon (22 March), Mali (29 March and 19 April) and Benin (17 May). All elections took place during a context of contagion with 2 reported cases in Guinea, 40 cases in Cameroon, 18 cases/224 cases (first and second round) in Mali and 338 cases in Benin.

Figure 1. Elections held or postponed from 21 Februrary to 17 May                                                                                       

 

Elections held so far:

Protective measures were employed for all four elections that were held amidst the pandemic in BeninCameroon, Guinea and Mali. These measures included: deep cleaning of polling stations before, during and after polling; mandatory use of masks and gloves for election officials; temperature checks at polling stations; provision of handwashing facilities and sanitizers for voters at polling stations; social distancing at the polling stations; and restrictions on number of persons present per room during voting and counting was done in centralized locations. Of particular interest is Benin, where all in-person campaign events were canceled, as gatherings of over 50 people were prohibited, forcing candidates to focus more on media appearances and campaign posters.

Voter turnout for the Guinea and Mali election (see figure 1) was low in comparison to past elections. For example, the Guinea provisional voter turnout was 58 per cent, which was lower than 68.4 per cent in the 2015 presidential election. In Mali, voter turnout for the first round elections on 29 March was 35.58 per cent, which dropped to 35.25 per cent in the second round parliamentary elections held on 19 April. Turnout in the 2020 elections was low compared to 42.7 per cent in the 2013 parliamentary election (See figure 2, Guinea and Mali VT). Provisional voter turnout for Benin local elections during the time of writing has not been released.

Figure 2. Guinea and Mali Voter Turnout                                                       

 

There have been reports of further contagion during the election period. As of 17 May 2020 coronavirus cases in each country has increased. Guinea has 2658 coronavirus cases including 16 deaths; Cameroon has 3105 cases and 140 deaths; and Mali 860 cases and 52 deaths. In each of the aforementioned countries, the cases of coronavirus started to grow rapidly in the weeks after the elections as illustrated by Worldometer country data/graphs. The President of INEC, died from COVID-19 on 17 April 2020, it is believed that he contracted the virus during the election period.

Elections in the second half of the year

For the rest of 2020, there are more than a dozen scheduled national, regional or local elections in Africa. Elections are continuous processes that involved a complex interplay of activities that are technical in nature but carry deep political and legal implications. The quality of an election management body’s (EMB) preparation for an election is crucial for the overall success of the process. The pandemic has necessitated varying degrees of restrictions and emergency measures, imposed by governments, thus affecting the implementation of important pre-election activities.

In the cases of Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Malawi, Niger and Ghana some electoral preparations have been delayed or postponed. These include the voter registration, the training of staff, local commissioners and electoral agents. Party Primary elections in Ghana have also been postponed. These postponements may cause overall changes in the election calendar.

EMBs in many sub-Saharan African countries depend largely on international procurement of sensitive election materials, as the capacity to produce locally is not readily available. The closure of international borders and of production centres in the supplying markets in response to the pandemic make international procurement a challenge, as seen in Liberia.

Can we still hold safe elections?

Many countries outside Africa that have either postponed, held or are planning to hold elections in 2020 have looked at Special Voting Arrangements (SVA) as an option that can allow elections to take place during a time of contagion. For example, local EMBs in Bavaria, Germany and the USA have introduced postal voting for subnational elections.

While the infrastructure in Africa may not support postal and online voting, other SVAs could be considered. South Africa and some other countries have SVAs for the elderly, the invalid and persons on election duty. The special voting allows these vulnerable voters to vote in advance (two days earlier), it also provides the possibility of home visits. Such SVAs could allow for staggered voting to reduce the pressure on voters on election day. However, in the context of the pandemic, the home visits should be modified to reduce the human contact between the officials and the voters who are at risk of contracting the virus. Mauritius which has voting by proxy could potentially extend the SVA to the elderly or persons who are infected by COVID-19.

In March 2020, International IDEA published a technical paper that lists some alternative mechanisms of campaigning and remote voting methods. This includes campaigning through Internet or via social media platforms or voting by post or online through a computer or mobile phone application. If postal or online voting is deemed inappropriate, then other in-person arrangements can be made in order to decrease the risk of contagion. This includes either introducing advance voting or extending advance voting arrangements to a larger group of people if the election code allows. In South Korea, the National Election Commission (NEC) encouraged all voters to cast their vote before election day at any of the 3,500 polling stations that were setup throughout the country. The rational for early voting was to allow a large group of people to vote before election day irrespective of their residence. In the end 26.69 per cent (or 11.74 million) of voters cast their vote through early voting provisions. This measure reduced the risk contagion as less people gathered together to vote on election day. It also reduced voter disenfranchisement and contributed to a historic high 66.2 per cent (29.12 million ballots cast)voter turnout in the country.

If new voting arrangements are proposed, or enacted good practice dictates that new laws need to be agreed typically between six months (as per article 2 of the ECOWAS protocol on Good Governance) to one year (as per Venice Commission, code of good practice in electoral matters) before elections take place, in order to uphold the principle of electoral law stability. A distinction should be made of what represents a major change in the electoral system and what are relatively more technical aspects that an EMB can adopt in a shorter period of time. Broad consensus of new voting arrangements will increase the integrity of the election and its eventual outcome. Therefore, all countries planning to hold elections in 2020 or early 2021 during a time of contagion need to start discussing these arrangements across party lines and through inter-agency forums as soon as possible.

Categorieën
IDEA Mensenrechten Nieuwsbericht

Adapting Elections to COVID-19: five key questions for decision makers

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this commentary are those of the author, who is a staff member of International IDEA. This commentary is independent of specific national or political interests. Views expressed do not necessarily represent the institutional position of International IDEA, its Board of Advisers or its Council of Member States.

The global spread of COVID-19 has already profoundly impacted the health and welfare of citizens around the world. Decisions being made about how elections are run during the pandemic will have a further profound effect, shaping the health of democracy in the future.

Many policymakers have responded to the pandemic by postponing elections, with at least fifty-five countries and territories between February and May 2020, rescheduling the polls. Postponing an election is not quite as undemocratic as it sounds but others have forged on by trying to adapt elections to the pandemic—or are actively trying to find ways to do this. This has included proposals to hold all-postal elections in Poland, encouraging early voting in South Korea or the use of protective clothing by electoral officials in Israel. A coalition of US academics have set out proposals for fair elections in November 2020.

Decisions are usually best made to suit local circumstances and pressures. There are some universal questions that we can ask about the running of elections, however. In a recent book on Comparative Electoral Management, I set out a framework for evaluating the running of elections. This framework is set out in full in Chapter 4, which is free to download here (p.61-71). This framework can also be used to consider the merits—or otherwise—of the reforms being put forward.

The starting point is that elections are not entirely different in nature to other public services such as schools and hospitals. Some of the tools that have been used to assess them can therefore be adapted to assess how elections are run. At the heart of the electoral process, however, is democracy. David Beetham’s focus on a democratic society as one where the key principles of political quality and popular control of government are achieved therefore provides a normative anchor for how we should assess the electoral process. The framework sets out five dimensions of electoral management that are essential for democratic ideals (Figure 1 and Table 1).

Figure 1: The PROSeS Framework. Source: James (2020: 61).

 

 

Table 1: The PROSeS matrix for evaluating electoral management. Source: James (2020: 66).

 

Firstly, we should focus on the decision-making processes in place for electoral management bodies. If decisions are going to be made due to COVID-19, the question is not just what decision is made, but how that decision is made and by whom? Good electoral management requires that these decisions are not just made behind closed doors by senior electoral officials—or that a small clique of politicians dictate new rules from Parliament. There should be widespread consultation and public involvement. In emergency situations the extensiveness of public deliberations can often curtailed by time, but a wide variety of stakeholders should be consulted and a digital society now enables calls for views from the public, focus groups and public polls. The probity of the decisions made and accountability mechanisms in place should be considered too.

Secondly, the resourcing of any reforms is vitally important. A decision, for example, to switch from holding elections in person at a polling station to rely on mail-in ballots is going to have a major consequence for staffing levels, working practices, postage and printing costs. Who is going to pay for this? When? Do electoral officials have sufficient financial resources, staff and equipment to implement the reforms? The sufficiency of this funding is vitally important so that electoral officials don’t find themselves with cash crises during the electoral process—or find themselves with unfunded blackholes afterwards. We should expect the unexpected. The availability of contingency funds is therefore vitally important too. 

Thirdly, the quality of services to the citizen have an obvious importance. ‘Put the voter first’ is a common mantra for electoral services around the world—but there is a major risk that the service provided will be compromised during these difficult times. Convenience is critically important. Information about how to vote should be readily available and the process as simple and streamlined as possible. Accuracy is critical. The pressures on electoral officials will be immense, but there should be no compromises when voters consider whether their vote had been counted. Putting the voter first also means enforcing the rules against them and their fellow citizens. If polling stations are required to close at 19:00, then they should close at 19:00. If postal votes need to have been received by a certain date, then that date should be absolute. 

Fourthly, the likely effects of any COVID-19 reforms should be mapped against service outcomes. The service outcomes for private companies are usually profit, share value and revenue. When it comes to the implementation of the electoral process service outcomes are no less relevant. They would include voter turnout. Elections held during a pandemic are likely to be hit by a drop in turnout because citizens might be reluctant to travel to the poll and there is therefore a strong case for compensatory mechanisms to ensure inclusive elections. Electoral officials, of course, are unable to shape this key metric alone as it depends on many factors. But how the election is run is one of them. The accuracy and completeness of the electoral register are essential for well-run elections and many countries rely on the canvassing of properties to keep registers accurate. However, South Africa was amongst many countries to have to suspend voter registration initiatives in response to the pandemic leaving the register likely to be affected. How reforms might shape the volume of rejected ballot papers, levels of electoral fraud, possible service denial or ignite violence all need measurement and consideration too.

Fifth, stakeholder satisfaction is crucial to the electoral process. Citizens are one obvious stakeholder and their satisfaction with any reforms that are made should therefore be considered and monitored. Satisfaction amongst parties and civil society is crucial for ensuring support in the democratic system and is likely to require cross-party working. Often forgotten is the level of staff satisfaction amongst the electoral officials on the ground. Staff satisfaction matters for instrumental reasons. The effects are commonly thought to include improved retention and performance. There are also moral reasons: organizations have a duty of care towards their employees—especially where there could be physical risks to their health during the pandemic.

There are no easy solutions for policymakers through these logistical and moral mazes when decisions have to be made within short time frames. It is clear, however, that the election will affect all citizens, civil society groups and political actors. Better decisions will therefore be made where the decision-making process is as inclusive and consultative as possible. And anchoring decisions against democratic principles is imperative.

Categorieën
IDEA Mensenrechten Nieuwsbericht

Why collective parliamentary governance is more important than ever in a pandemic

Parliaments and Crisis is the new Parliamentary Primer produced by the INTER PARES project, funded by the European Union and delivered by International IDEA. Written in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the Primer looks at how democratic parliaments play a crucial role in making good decisions and protecting citizens’ rights during a crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic has deeply impacted how we are governed. For example, Chile has amended its constitution to permit virtual parliamentary debate, Ireland’s parliament added protections in emergency legislation for people without permanent homes, and Brazil’s Senate enabled citizens to make comments in its online session platform. These examples show how democracies have had to adapt to operating under extreme time pressure, without losing the advantages of transparency, citizen voices, and effective policy feedback loops that make democracy the most effective and just governance system.

As the deadly nature of COVID-19 became apparent, states around the world had to rapidly ramp up health care responses, put in place social distancing measures to reduce infection spread, and provide economic support to growing numbers of people who lost work and income.

Parliaments are the core democratic institutions representing citizens throughout the policy cycle; in creating legislative rules that govern society, in ensuring that government implements legislated programmes effectively and fairly, in voting the use of taxpayers’ resources to pay for government services, and in ensuring the diverse views of citizens are heard at every stage. During a crisis, parliaments must carry out the same functions, but more rapidly, and in often adverse circumstances.

During the pandemic, democracies that acted effectively to manage health impacts were able to avoid draconian restrictions on human rights. South Korea, which was initially worst hit after China, was able to control the epidemic and restrict deaths to under 250 by 29 April, without introducing emergency powers legislation. South Korea even held a parliamentary election in April with a turnout of 66 per cent, the highest in 28 years. Finland’s parliament rigorously reviewed emergency powers legislation and amended it to enhance human rights protections. By the end of April, the country had one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates in Europe.

Based on a survey of actions taken by parliaments around the world during March 2020, Parliaments in Crisis explores how parliaments around the world have responded to the coronavirus pandemic, within a broader exploration of how parliaments can protect democratic principles and ensure good governance during crises. The Primer explores the different steps parliament took to: enable their continued functioning including through innovative solutions such as virtual sessions; give governments necessary powers to protect public health; conduct effective oversight of government actions particularly to ensure respect for citizen rights; and learn lessons from the crisis to feed into better planning and decision-making.

Parliaments are faced with four sometimes conflicting imperatives during a crisis. First, they must make quick but properly thought-out decisions, particularly on any emergency powers that governments need to be able to act quickly against the pandemic. Second, they need to ensure continuity of constitutional  governance and the balance of powers required by representative democracy. Third, they must set an example as an institution through observing health requirements like social distancing. Finally, MPs and staff have a right, and a duty, to protect themselves personally.

Most surveyed parliaments quickly took measures to address these different priorities, and typically, their measures evolved and improved as the crisis continued. The Primer documents examples from different countries around the world, ranging from basic safety measures such as limiting public access to the parliament to high-tech solutions like virtual plenary sessions.

The Primer focuses particularly on two aspects of parliaments’ responses. First, it looks at how parliaments ensured that emergency measures considered the needs of all parts of the population, and also that any emergency government powers were both limited in time and scope, and subject to proper parliamentary oversight. In several documented cases, parliaments amended proposed legislation to provide greater human rights protections. Second, the primer examines how parliaments implemented innovative solutions to enable virtual functioning, both through using conferencing technologies, and in adapting parliamentary rules, and even in one case the national constitution, to permit online debates and voting.

The Primer concludes in exploring how parliaments can play a key role both in reviewing how effectively government responded to the crisis, identifying lessons to be implemented in improved crisis and disaster planning, and also in launching inclusive national discussions on the longer-term implications of crises and disasters. Parliaments, representing diverse sectors and interests within a country, are uniquely placed to host inclusive discussion on deeper questions such as the relationship between disasters such as the pandemic and the sustainability of current economic models nationally and globally.

The Primer is one of several initiatives that INTER PARES is taking to support emerging parliaments deal with the pandemic and its aftermath. A series of best practice examples are being recorded and disseminated through the INTER PARES website, a comprehensive database of parliamentary responses globally is being collected to be presented through accessible infographics, and project partner parliaments around the world are being offered support through virtual technologies including e-learning courses.

DOWNLOAD THE PRIMER HERE

About the project: INTER PARES | Parliaments in Partnership – EU Global Project to Strengthen the Capacity of Parliaments is the first global parliamentary project of its kind. Funded by the EU and implemented by International IDEA, its purpose is to strengthen the capacity of parliaments in partner countries, by enhancing their legislative, oversight, representative, budgetary and administrative functions. It focuses both on elected Members of Parliament (MPs), particularly in their capacity as members of parliamentary committees and on the staff of parliaments’ secretariats.

Categorieën
IDEA Mensenrechten Nieuwsbericht

Supporting the EU as a global leader on Democracy: Read our Joint Statements on EU programming for external action 2021-2027

International IDEA co-drafted three position papers with recommendations on programming for democracy within the EU Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI). The Statements are jointly published with the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) and the European Network of Political Foundations (ENoP).

The recommendations aim at supporting the EU in its ambition to become a global leader on human rights and democracy and deliver a new geopolitical agenda[1]. While negotiations are ongoing on the next EU multi-annual financial framework, now is the time for the EU in Brussels and EU Delegations to set general democracy contours through the programming cycle. Integrating this priority will allow the EU to support democracy assistance projects in the years to come.

The full text of the Joints Statements can be consulted here:

  1. Joint Statement on geographic programming for democracy

Democratisation programmes should be a cross-cutting priority in EU’s development programming, including the geographic allocations. This will allow the EU to achieve its commitment to be a frontrunner in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and ambition to take up a global leadership on human rights and democracy. Read our recommendations on the level of funding, themes, funding modalities and procedures [here].

  1. Joint Statement on thematic programming on human rights and democracy

Strong democratic institutions and sound democratic processes help to enhance democratic delivery on the five key areas for external action set by the European Commission: sustainable growth, climate action, peace & governance, migration and digital development. Read our recommendations on how to operationalise this vision through thematic programming for human rights and democracy [here].

  1. Joint Statement on thematic programming for civil society organizations

Support to civil society is crucial for enhancing democratic accountability and fostering participation in democracy. The EU should enhance its efforts against shrinking civic space and in support of free media as cornerstones of democracy. Read our recommendations on how to empower civil society organizations through EU external action programming [here].

For more information about the Joint Statements and International IDEA’s partnership with the EU, please contact International IDEA’s Europe Office at idea.euo@idea.int

Categorieën
IDEA Mensenrechten Nieuwsbericht

Val och COVID-19 – demokrati i osäkra tider

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this commentary are those of the staff member. This commentary is independent of specific national or political interests. Views expressed do not necessarily represent the institutional position of International IDEA, its Board of Advisers or its Council of Member States.

Erik Asplund och Toby James diskuterar det dilemma som länder runt om i världen står inför: att hålla eller senarelägga val under pandemin. De presenterar riktlinjer för att säkerställa att valdeltagandet förblir rättvist och öppet ur ett demokratiskt perspektiv under den pågående krisen.

En av grundprinciperna i en demokrati är att det hålls fria, rättvisa och regelbundna val. Detta krav förankrades som bekant i artikel 21.3 i FN:s allmänna förklaring om de mänskliga rättigheterna. I och med att val med säkerhet hålls ges medborgarna möjligheten att avsluta eller förlänga mandatet för deras företrädare och ledare.

Det finns dock tillfällen då val i nära anslutning till naturkatastrofer, hungersnöd eller epidemier kan utgöra ett potientiellt hot mot människors liv, något som blottlagts nu under coronaviruspandemin (COVID-19). Val och annat som hör till det politiska arbetet i en demokrati har plötsligt blivit en risk för infektionssjukdomen att spridas, som medborgare som köar för att få rösta vid vallokaler eller offentliga tjänstemän som räknar röster i lokaler fulla med folk.

Som en följd av detta har, endast under mars-april 2020, fler än 12 nationella val och 50 val på regional nivå, som var planerade under mars–augusti, flyttats fram av 50 länder och territorium världen över. Det är troligt att ytterligare framflyttningar kommer att ske i och med virusets snabba spridning. Det finns dock vissa länder som trots pandemin har genomfört nationella val, några exempel är Israel (2 mars), Frankrike (15 mars) och nyligen Sydkorea (15 april). Även presidentvalet i Polen (10 maj) är planerat att genomföras, dock endast genom poströstning efter kontroversiellt beslut från Polska lagstiftare den 6 april.

Varför avvaktar vissa länder och andra inte under COVID-19-pandemin? Beslutet huruvida man ska hålla valen eller ställa in är inte enkelt, och det finns inte alltid ett tydligt samband mellan makthavarnas beslut och bekräftat antal smittade. Till skillnad från Israel, som hade 12 rapporterade fall under valdagen den 2 mars, var antalet fall betydligt högre i både Frankrike (5 423 fall) och Sydkorea (10 591 fall) när valet ägde rum. Det finns inte heller tydliga samband mellan dessa beslut och hur bra eller dåligt landet positionerar sig på IDEA’s globala demokratiindex. Demokratier har både valt att genomföra (Tyskland) och flytta fram (Storbritannien) val, detsamma gäller även länder med demokratisk tillbakagång (jämför Ryssland och Polen).

Debatten går hög världen över. Abraham Lincolns ståndpunkt från 1864 har citerats inför det amerikanska presidentvalet. ”Vi röstade under ett inbördeskrig… Vi röstade under både första och andra världskriget. Att senarelägga valprocessen är därför, i min mening, uteslutet”, har Joe Biden, enligt uppgift, sagt. På andra håll hörs emellertid andra tongångar. Frankrikes president Emmanuel Macron har gång på gång sagt att ”vi är i krig” mot coronaviruset samtidigt som han meddelade att den andra omgången av lokalvalen skulle senareläggas. Dessa var ursprungligen planerade att hållas den 22 mars. Forskare framhåller att ett val kan äventyra hälsan både för de som röstar och för valarbetarna. Studier visar att många valarbetare ofta är äldre, pensionerade volontärer.

Ett hot mot demokratin?

Att skjuta upp val kan få människor att tvivla på landets demokratiprocesser. Om de inte får rösta när de skulle ha röstat, kan det skapa en känsla av att de inte får göra sina röster hörda. Det kan väcka misstankar om att mandattiden för sittande beslutsfattare och makthavare förlängs, utan att allmänheten får säga sitt. Att man inte har fått möjligheten att förändra den politiska riktningen. Oron är större i de länder som redan sett en demokratisk tillbakagång och där civilsamhället redan kritiserat makthavarna för att använda coronaviruset som en ursäkt för att förlänga sina mandat.

Enligt en ny teknisk rapport från International IDEA, Elections and COVID-19, kan de demokratiska principerna även undermineras om val hålls i dessa tider. Exempel:

  • Valdeltagandet kan sjunka, i synnerhet bland grupper som löper högre risk att smittas av sjukdomen, vilket underminerar principerna om inkludering och jämlikhet i valprocessen (se figur 1 för exempel på hur valdeltagandet minskade i de franska kommunalvalen som hölls den 15 mars 2020 jämfört med valdeltagandet under tidigare val).
  • Politiskt kampanjarbete kan eventuellt inte genomföras då sociala kontakter antingen avråds eller är förbjudna i större grupper.
  • Den offentliga debatten kan komma att enbart fokusera på det aktuella hotet mot folkhälsan, vilket medför att andra viktiga ämnen inte diskuteras.
  • En skrupelfri regering kan införa nödrestriktioner för att hålla tillbaka oppositionskandidater eller kritiska medier och individer, vilket medför att valen som hålls under nödläget blir mindre fria och rättvisa än de bör vara.

                                                                           Figur 1: Valdeltagande i de franska kommunalvalen

 

Innovation i valtider

Det finns sätt att upprätthålla demokratin och flera länder har varit oerhört nytänkande och snabba med att anpassa sig till de nya förutsättningarna. I USA har Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (USA:s nationella folkhälsomyndighet) tagit fram rekommendationer om förebyggande åtgärder för valarbetare och allmänhet. I dessa förespråkas röstsätt som minimerar kontakten med andra människor, rengöring och desinficering av röstutrustning samt åtgärder för att möjliggöra social distansering i vallokalerna. I Sydkorea har den nationella valnämnden presenterat en rad särskilda hälso- och säkerhetsåtgärder, däribland förtidsröstning för bekräftade COVID-19-patienter på vårdinrättningar i syfte att skydda deras rösträtt.

I Bayern i Tyskland är det endast möjligt att poströsta, vilket eliminerar all röstning i vallokal i syfte att minimera den smittorisk som sociala kontakter medför. Även Nya Zeelands valnämnd överväger att göra de alternativa röstsätt som redan finns för personer som inte har möjlighet att besöka en vallokal tillgängliga för samtliga röstberättigade vid det allmänna valet den 19 september 2020.

För länder som planerar att genomföra val trots den rådande pandemin är det viktigt att man drar lärdom av andra länder. I länder där människor inte har tillgång till rent vatten, desinfektionsmedel, skyddskläder eller ett fungerande postväsende finns dock goda grunder för att antingen vidta extraordinära åtgärder eller att senarelägga valen till en tidpunkt när virushotet har klingat av.


Upprätthålla demokratin

I den tekniska rapport från International IDEA finns rekommendationer för hur makthavare ska gå tillväga. Det finns ingen lösning som fungerar i alla situationer. Men det finns några allmänna principer som kan tillämpas. Det är nödvändigt att olika organ samarbetar och man bör:

  • noga beakta medarbetarnas och allmänhetens säkerhet, konstitutionella begränsningar och förfaranden samt konsekvenser för demokratin – inkludering, jämlikhet och ansvarsskyldighet
  • överväga om det är logistiskt möjligt med alternativa röstningsförfaranden, och om man väljer att genomföra ett val ska åtgärder för att minimera risker vidtas
  • hitta möjliga vägar för att hantera den aktuella valproblematiken och ta fram bindande riktlinjer för övergångsregeringar i de fall då val flyttas fram
  • informera allmänheten om de aktuella problemen, skälen till beslutet samt vilka processer som finns för att skydda demokratin.

Den globala spridningen av COVID-19 har i stor utsträckning redan påverkat medborgarnas hälsa och välfärd. Besluten som makthavarna fattar huruvida man ska hålla val kommer att få ytterligare effekter, vilket kommer att påverka tillståndet för framtidens demokratier.

Ansvarsfriskrivning: Åsikterna som förs fram i denna artikel tillskrivs författaren, som är anställd på International IDEA. Denna artikel är inte bunden av särskilda nationella och politiska intressen. Åsikterna som förs fram utgör inte nödvändigtvis den institutionella ståndpunkten för International IDEA, dess rådgivande styrelse eller dess råd för medlemsländer.

Den här artikeln publicerades för första gången på Democratic Audit (UK) den 30 mars 2020. Texten har redigerats något jämfört med originalet för att spegla nya händelseförlopp​.

Categorieën
IDEA Mensenrechten Nieuwsbericht

Lessons from elections in the time of pandemic – Republic of Korea

By holding National Assembly elections, the Republic of Korea is bucking a global trend. Data collected by International IDEA in its Global Overview of COVID-19: Impact on Elections shows most countries have opted for the deferral of their elections, worried that voting could exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic.

These elections were closely watched—not just over the issue of how the government’s early handling of the pandemic was managed—but from a more global perspective. Many lessons may be drawn from its successes and failures in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the election. They will help to obtain answers to several questions such as what measures were adopted to ensure a safe voting environment? To which extent did they provide the electorate with enough reassurance and confidence to vote? Has the pandemic impacted on the ability of political parties to campaign and reach their audiences? Was the disruption created by the pandemic of such levels to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the election? And has the decision of the Republic of Korea of going ahead with election exposed voters and polling station officials to increased health risks?

Election campaigning was muted due to social distancing needs, with campaign rallies cancelled. But parties reached out through social media and phone apps as well as traditional postal materials. To ensure election safety, the National Election Commission (NEC) encouraged early voting, extending voting by mail and reducing the risk of the in-person voting, with measures such as the wearing of masks. To ensure social distancing did not impact elections transparency by undermining media presence, for example, the NEC ensured many polling activities were livestreamed.

As the polling stations closed, two preliminary successes for the 2020 National Assembly elections are evident. The seamless management of these elections by the NEC and the level of voter participation despite the serious risks of virus exposure showed theat measures put in place by the NEC have mostly worked well.

One of the key signs of success was voter turnout, which was 66 per cent despite this unprecedented situation. Early voting also saw a recorded turnout of 26.7 per cent, with approximately 12 million voters opting to cast their ballots this way.

With the polls just closed, it is premature to determine what extent the decision of going ahead with elections exposed voters and NEC polling station officials to risks of contagion. What it is certain is that the stringent health safeguards and precautions adopted and rigorously put in place by the NEC have reassured voters. The extension of home voting provisions to patients being treated for COVID-19 was also an important measure to symbolically guarantee the enfranchisement of a vulnerable segment of the society. It is also noteworthy to highlight that the decision to enfranchise 18-year old voters, through recent electoral reform, which allowed them to vote for the first time, is likely to have contributed to increase turnout.

There have also been problems though. Election campaigning was limited, although these limitations affected all political parties. Another issue was the cancelation of out-of-country voting operations in several countries, meaning some half of 172,000 citizens abroad were unable to vote.

Still, it appears that the legitimacy of the 21st National Assembly elections in the Republic of Korea has emerged largely unscathed from these exceptional circumstances.

What are the lessons for other countries that face elections in the months ahead? One is that the conditions seen in the Republic of Korea will be difficult to replicate. An obvious requirement would be that the level of pandemic outbreak must be somehow contained. Unless voting is conducted entirely through remote voting methods, it would be unconceivable to run an election while the country is in lockdown. The 2020 elections were held as scheduled, not only because its government was confident of its capabilities to bring the outbreak under control, but also because it was accomplished. The second condition is about having a solid electoral framework in place. All the exceptional measures could not have been pulled off so timely and seamlessly, hadn’t numerous legal and procedural provisions to facilitate inclusion and participation of voters been already part of the electoral framework of the Republic of Korea. Absentee and advance voting procedures could be suitably and swiftly extended to address some of the extraordinary challenges that the pandemic posed. Another condition is having enough means and resources, something that may be out of reach for many other nations lacking the required financial and human resources, technology, know-how, communications means and supplies. A last condition is having conducive political environment, where competing political actors accept limitations imposed on their campaigns. While there is obviously much to be learned, the Republic of Korea’s exceptional experience in running a credible, fair and safe election under a pandemic may not be replicable in its entirely.

                          Image credit: Jens-Olaf Walter@Flickr                                                                                                                                                                                           
Categorieën
IDEA Mensenrechten

Resilience to the pandemic not only depends on enforcement capacity

 

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this commentary are those of the staff member. This commentary is independent of specific national or political interests. Views expressed do not necessarily represent the institutional position of International IDEA, its Board of Advisers or its Council of Member States.

This Commentary constitutes a preliminary analysis based on a small sample size of countries in the early stages of the Corona pandemic and helps to set out the type of analysis that can be done to explore the linkages between the Corona crisis and GSoD Indices. This analysis has not yet been peer-reviewed and will be further explored and methodologically strengthened as the crisis unfolds when there is more country case data available and the underlying methodology has been thoroughly vetted by scholarly experts. 

As COVID-19 virus infections are spreading across the world, the factors enabling states to cope with the pandemic have become the subject of intense public debate. High-income countries can rely on a much more developed hospital infrastructure to treat patients in critical conditions. However, economic wealth is not the only factor influencing the response capacities of states. China has demonstrated that it is possible to limit the spread of the disease by enforcing strict measures of social distancing and isolation.  

China’s apparent effectiveness and the dramatic increases in mortality rates in some democratic countries have raised doubts as to whether democracies are well equipped to address the challenges posed by COVID-19. Democracies may not use social surveillance methods to track infections among their citizens, and they are less able to constrain the civil liberties on which they are built. To impose far-reaching emergency measures in democracies, governments need to comply with constitutional rules and persuade political and institutional veto players. These perceived weaknesses have been exploited by some governments to monopolize executive powers in the name of effective crisis management, for example in Hungary.  

However, there is no empirical evidence proving an inherent weakness of democracies in managing the impact of the pandemic. International IDEA staff has analyzed how the democratic quality of states is related to the effectiveness of their health systems in containing the number of case fatalities. This analysis draws on the Global State of Democracy Indices (GSoDI), a large data set measuring aspects of democracy in 158 states. The most recent GSoDI update reflects the situation in 2018. To assess the effectiveness of the policy response to the pandemic, the analysis focused on the share of COVID-19-related deaths as a percentage of confirmed infections. Lower mortality rates can be viewed as approximate indications of more effective policies. 

The underlying numbers of confirmed infections and deaths are taken from a database established by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. This database provides daily updates on the scope of infections in a large number of countries, based on sources from the World Health Organization, various national health authorities and other organizations. The cross-national comparability of the figures is limited since individual national health authorities vary in their approaches to identifying and registering COVID-19 cases. Yet their broad coverage is of great value for grasping the pandemic in its national trajectories.  

The analysis has examined how different aspects of democratic quality correlate with fatality rates reported in countries during the third week after a local outbreak, which was defined as the first day with the number of confirmed infections exceeding 100. Rather than choosing a fixed date, these country-specific timelines reflect the fact that countries are at different stages of the epidemic curve. On 31 March 2020, 47 countries had passed 14 days after the local outbreak. Of these countries, 36 are classified as democracies and 11 are viewed as non-democracies or hybrid political regimes by the GSoDI. To account for day-to-day fluctuations in mortality rates, three-day moving averages were calculated.  

Among the 28 aspects of democracy measured by GSoDI, an impartial public administration, basic welfare, and personal integrity/security are most strongly correlated with lower fatality rates. These patterns tend to confirm the importance of economic wealth and state capacity, but also show that political regimes protecting personal security tend to perform better. Within the subset of democracies, civic engagement was most consistently correlated with lower rates. Labeled Civil Society Participation in the GSoDI, this aspect measures the extent to which societies are characterized by organized, voluntary, self-generating and autonomous civic associations. The plot below shows the COVID-19 fatality rates of democracies at different levels of Civil Society Participation (ranging from 0 to 1 = highest). 

Average fatality rates in 31 democracies,16 to 18 days after exceeding 100 confirmed infections.  
The Red line denotes average rates conditional upon leaves of Civil Society Participation.                   
Sources
: Johns Hopkins University, International IDEA  www.idea.int/gsod-indices                                 

 

The graph represents only a snapshot of an early moment in the global struggle against the pandemic. However, the negative correlation indicates that both the engagement of citizens in civil society organizations and the involvement of civil society in public policy-making are associated with better performance on a crucial indicator of public health. There may be different causal mechanisms at work here: citizens experiencing that their voice matters in the public sphere are likely to trust more in government and behave responsibly; civil society organizations acting as transmitters, supporters and amplifiers of public health policy measures; or civic engagement and dense associational networks contributing to interpersonal trust and more solidarity with vulnerable groups. These and other possible causal pathways linking civic engagement to a flatter epidemic curve and lower fatality rates need to be further explored. Further research is also necessary to assess whether antecedent or confounding causal factors shape the relationship or whether it will persist as the pandemic unfolds further.  

However, there is enough reason for skepticism as to whether a narrow understanding of state capacity as the ability to enforce drastic emergency measures will be key to master the current crisis. The pattern from the early days of the COVID-19 crisis points to a source of resilience in democracies and a competitive advantage. Their governments may lag behind authoritarian regimes in implementing unpopular measures, but they are better positioned to engage civil society for public policies. 

 

 

 

 

Categorieën
IDEA Mensenrechten Nieuwsbericht

Elections and Covid-19: making democracy work in uncertain times

Names from left to right: Akhtari Henning, Sara Glaser, Niklas Lönn, Natalia Iuras, Maria Nordström, Peita Mamo, Serge G. Kubwimana, Ndoweni Mukutu, Erik Asplund, Staffan Darnolf, Zurab Khrikadze, Nomsa Masuku, Anders Eriksson, Kuldeep Kumar Saharawat, Samia Mahgoub, Luis Martinez-Betanzos, Therese Pearce-Laanela, Annica Sundel, Sara Staino, Ntonye Njoya, Paul Guerin, Toby S. James, Najia Hashemee, Tendai Chinamora-Jönsson. Image Credit: Lisa Hagman.

Categorieën
IDEA Mensenrechten

The role of voter education in voter registration

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this commentary are those of the staff member. This commentary is independent of specific national or political interests. Views expressed do not necessarily represent the institutional position of International IDEA, its Board of Advisers or its Council of Member States.

Voter education efforts around new, innovative, voter registration systems need to go beyond informing citizens about which procedures to follow to get correctly included on the voter roll.

One such issue had had to be considered by Papua New Guinea for the Constitutional Law Reform Commission in 2019: the question of how to overcome cultural or religious objections against biometric voter registration. In Papua New Guinea certain groups are opposed to submitting their signatures or fingerprints for voter registration purposes. Some consider this to be something the bible warns about, others attach magic and witchcraft to the gathering of such personal data.

Cultural and religious objections against biometric voter registration

Indeed, this is a challenge that arises in many other countries as well. Nigeria adopted biometric technologies prior to their election in 2015. Some voters, particularly in rural areas, believed their biometric data could expose them to “demonic manipulation and could be used for occult practices by their enemies.” These symbolic attachments to beliefs of photos being used by enemies to invoke spirits are still prevalent beliefs for some citizens, making it necessary to present biometric technology as genuine and “not intended to inflict spiritual harm.”

In the Solomon Islands, sorcery is an offense under the law and strong beliefs in custom rituals and magic remain. Biometric voter registration was introduced in 2014 to clean up the electoral roll. The system only stored data on voters’ thumbprints and facial recognition details – both considered less intrusive forms of biometric data.

The Commonwealth Observer Group noted that this raised both confidence in and integrity of the electoral roll. Nonetheless, rumors persisted, for example regarding an increased vulnerability to malevolent sorcery through biometrics, and about protection against malevolent sorcerers by keeping one’s real name secret.