Electoral operations during the COVID-19 pandemic
Type of work: Report
The COVID-19 pandemic obliges countries to consider how to proceed with scheduled elections1F 2 while at the same time trying to protect lives. Decisions on postponing or proceeding with elections raise complex legal, political, human rights and public health challenges; responses will depend on the specific context of individual states.
In those member states which decide to proceed with elections during COVID-19, lockdown measures, closures, restrictions on gathering sizes, quarantines and guidelines on physical distancing will have a significant impact on electoral operations. Electoral management bodies (EMBs) and other national authorities should keep in mind the advice and requirements of national public health authorities, as well as guidance and recommendations provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), in planning and implementing electoral processes. For example, WHO’s planning recommendations for mass gatherings, and advice to the public on protecting oneself and others from the spread of COVID-19. All electoral activities should take into account the health consequences for election officials, voters and other stakeholders – and prevent the spread of the virus.
The present document has been prepared by the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (EAD) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with contributions from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Office for Project Support (UNOPS), and the WHO.
The purpose of this document is to offer options on how electoral operations can be carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic, in ways that respond to public health requirements and concerns. This is an internal UN document intended for UN electoral advisers working with national authorities and may also inform other UN officials. The focus is on aspects of an election that are particularly affected by the pandemic and related public health measures. While a variety of operational adjustments are discussed, the document concentrates primarily on a short- and medium-term horizon; that is, measures that may be considered for elections that are planned to take place during this time of critical risk to health.
Naturally, every national context is complex and different, and the pandemic itself and health responses will also evolve. The situation within one country may also vary from place to place, depending on population density or other factors. No attempt is made here to offer prescriptions or “solutions”. Furthermore, the country examples are not meant to be recommendations or UN endorsements, but rather an illustration of state practice. It is intended that a revised version of this document will be issued in a number of months, to reflect additional experiences.
UNDP (2020). Electoral operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. A practical guide for UN electoral advisers. New York: UNDP.