IC Conference
ter nformation, ommunication & ducation work

Global Knowledge Network On Voter Education - learning from each other

Safeguarding Health and Elections during COVID-19

Elections usually involve large, nationwide gatherings, not only on Election Day but also, for example, during campaign rallies and voter registration drives. Few election management bodies (EMBs) have comprehensive plans in place to manage these activities amid widespread disease outbreaks. This has proven to be the case with COVID-19, 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.

As EMBs have limited time and resources to acquire supplies and incorporate new procedures to their processes, it is essential that risk-mitigation efforts are part of an overarching strategy that ensures optimization of resources and is informed by a contextualized COVID-19 risk assessment. If well executed, these measures can significantly mitigate the risk of virus transmission and reasonably reduce people’s fear of infection during electoral processes, which otherwise could drastically reduce voter turnout and undermine the legitimacy of results.

Decisions regarding whether and how to hold various electoral activities will be more successful if they:

  • Are informed by comprehensive risk assessments developed in coordination with competent public health authorities;
  • Accommodate the perspectives of political parties and civil society representing the full spectrum of constituencies in the country; and
  • Are based on a common understanding of all of the risks involved in holding elections amid the crisis.

Major Findings and Recommendations

According to the current available evidence from the WHO and CDC, the main form of transmission of the COVID-19 virus is person-to-person via viral droplets, but the virus can also be transmitted through indirect contact with fomites, which are objects or surfaces contaminated by the virus. Given these specific methods of transmission of the coronavirus, the following recommendations should apply to all electoral activities:

  • Communicate and coordinate with competent public health authorities on risk analysis, decision-making, planning and effective implementation of risk-mitigation strategies
  • Prevent or mitigate person-to-person interaction: Enforce safe physical distance, respiratory hygiene, use of personal protective equipment (PPE); when possible, adopt secure remote tools and mechanisms
  • Prevent or mitigate the contamination of common surfaces and objects: Enforce the use of PPE such as face masks and respiratory hygiene; when possible, adopt touchless mechanisms
  • Prevent or mitigate individuals’ exposure to contaminated surfaces or objects: Encourage hand sanitization; discourage touching of mouth, nose, and eyes; frequently disinfect surfaces and objects used by multiple people; enforce use of PPE; when possible, adopt touchless mechanisms

In addition, EMBs would benefit from considering the following recommendations for each electoral activity:


 Electoral Activity  Additional Considerations
 Electoral and Resource Planning  When postponing elections, ensure compliance with legal provisions; conduct scenario planning to schedule elections as soon as possible, and make necessary adjustments to the operational calendar and budget; frequently communicate updates to the public
 When scheduling elections, consider disease spread, stage of outbreak, capacity of health care system and structure, weather/season
 Adjust processes and procedures to reduce transmission risks; identify and procure extraordinary or additional material, equipment and supplies; hire extraordinary or additional staff; monitor potential supply chain disruptions
 Secure funds for additional material, equipment, personnel and processes; prioritize needs and optimize resources with the highest mitigating power
 Electoral Campaign  Streamline COVID-19 messaging and instructions with political parties, candidates, civil society and media; develop codes of conduct or incorporate COVID-19 issues in existing codes
 Detect and sanction individuals using COVID-19 disinformation for political gain
 Provide instructions on health precautions for public rallies, debates and other gatherings
 Adopt or expand access fairly to the media and other methods for remote campaigning
 Voter Education  Provide clear, accessible and frequent information to voters about COVID-19, its modes of transmission, and ways of combating it; follow best practices in health literacy (short messages that use active voice, familiar words and culturally relevant visuals)
 Provide clear, accessible and frequent information to citizens about new electoral procedures and how to comply with them
 Address disease-related disinformation and hate speech against at-risk and marginalized groups
Recruitment and Training of Poll Workers and Other Staff Where possible, use online platforms to receive and review staff applications; for in-person recruitment, use facilities with sufficient space to allow for required physical distance; encourage hand sanitization and use of face masks by recruiters and interviewees
 Release at-risk individuals and health care workers from poll-worker duty
 Incorporate COVID-19 information in training content especially modes of transmission and preventive measures
 Incorporate instructions regarding new procedures adopted due to COVID-19
 Select training locations with sufficient space to allow for sufficient physical distance and ensure hand-sanitization protocols and relevant PPE are available for all participants during training sessions
 Ensure inclusivity and accessibility of new online and remote training options
 For online training, incorporate mechanisms to ensure successful completion
Voter Registration, Candidate Registration, Ballot Casting, Vote Count and Results Management Select locations with sufficient space to allow for sufficient physical distance; locations should be far from areas where at-risk groups reside, although alternative measures should be taken to ensure participation of these groups
 Reduce number of individuals at facility at the same time: expand number of days or locations; assign groups to specific slots
 Develop and enforce COVID-19 risk-mitigating protocols for queueing, building entry and exit
 Prominently and publicly display COVID-19 information
 Provide sufficient hand-sanitization stations
 Encourage voters to bring and use their own pens
 Develop protocols for touchless identity verification
 Designate area for filling out forms complying with physical distance requirement
 Organize desks and chairs to comply with required distance for election officials, observers, party agents and media representatives; remove multiperson seating and other unnecessary objects from facilities; install plexiglass or other translucent shields for desks and counters across which voters and election officials interact
 Contact equipment vendors and manufacturers to obtain proper cleaning and disinfecting instructions
 Collect and dispose of waste material safely
 For mail-in forms and ballots, use self-sealing envelopes where possible
 Ensure inclusivity and accessibility of online and remote options
Domestic and International Election Observation and Party Agents While no eligible citizen should be deprived of the right to serve in elections as observers, in extraordinary circumstances like a public health crisis, release at-risk individuals and health care workers from being observers or party agents or warn them of all risks involved in participation
For accreditation process, follow same precautions as "Voter Registration, Candidate Registration and Ballot Casting"

Read the IFES paper on this topic here: https://www.ifes.org/sites/default/files/ifes_covid19_briefing_series_safeguarding_health_and_elections_may_2020.pdf

Contributors: Fernanda Buril, Staffan Darnolf, and Muluken Aseresa