SEATTLE, Washington — COVID-19 has altered daily life for a lot of people around the world. It has put a stop to activities that draw large gatherings and hinder social distancing. One of those activities is voting. Voting requires people to stand in lines and come into contact with ballots and screens touched by others. On April 27, New York became the first state in the United States to cancel its presidential primary over fears of spreading the virus. Now, people are wondering what voting during COVID-19 will look like as decreased voter turnout and a lack of preparation and absentee ballots are a real concern. With all of this uncertainty surrounding democracy in the United States, other countries are also facing the challenge of holding elections and maintaining a fair and representative democracy while coping with COVID-19.
Elections in South Korea
Many are viewing the national election held in South Korea on April 15 as an example of how to properly conduct an election while continuing safe practices to prevent the spread of the virus. On election day, South Korea had nearly 10,600 confirmed cases and more than 220 deaths. The number of cases peaked on February 29, and it has had one of the quickest recoveries of any country.
The polling stations implemented extra precautions to limit risk for voters. When they arrived, voters had to take their temperatures. Voters and workers had hand sanitizer, masks and gloves. Officials watched the crowds, ensuring everyone adhered to the tape on the floor keeping them six feet apart. They also took any voters with fevers or other symptoms to secluded booths in a separate location. Testing following the election has not shown an increase in cases. Despite predictions that the added stress of voting during the pandemic would reduce voter turnout, South Korea saw the largest turnout in almost 30 years.
Elections in Mali
Mali also had to navigate voting during COVID-19. Parliamentary elections took place on March 20 with a second-round following April 19. Voter turnout was notably low. Many questioned why the government didn’t postpone the elections during the pandemic since Mali is a low-income nation with a fragile health infrastructure. However, the first coronavirus related death in Mali occurred only hours before the polls opened. Furthermore, the elections had already been held up on two different occasions.
In response to citizens’ growing worries, Prime Minister Boubou Cisse stated that polling stations put precautions in place and asked voters to adhere to the recommended safety measures. However, voters later stated that there weren’t enough safety resources, such as masks and hand sanitizer. The polling stations were supposed to have provided them. By the time the second round of voting occurred on April 19, there were 171 confirmed cases and 13 deaths in Mali.
Countries continue to make decisions about voting during COVID-19. These two elections that have demonstrated both effective and ineffective methods. Many nations, such as several states in the United States, do not offer mail-in ballots or have not extended ballot qualifications to include conditions related to increased COVID-19 risks. They will need to be prepared to increase safety measures at polling stations in order to avoid inciting an outbreak. Democracy is one more thing that will have to adapt to the disrupted order during this pandemic.
– Lindsey Shinkle