Elections create a significant risk of increasing transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. At various stages of the electoral process, voters need to interact with officials, they may assemble in private and public spaces, and may exchange objects such as electoral materials and documents. This potential for interactions and exposures to SARS-Cov-2 increases the risk of contamination among electoral officials, political actors, registered voters and all others they come into contact with. Early in the pandemic, several sets of general recommendations to mitigate these risks were produced. However, due to their timing, those recommendations were unable to draw on evidence from research conducted in the context of COVID-19. As a result, they have little to say about how successfully mitigation measures are implemented in practice.
Furthermore, the early recommendations tend to propose universal solutions that do not always take into account the specific social and economic challenges of Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). For these reasons, the UKRI GCRF/Newton Fund ‘African Elections during the COVID-19 Pandemic’ project is designed to offer evidence-based, context-specific recommendations that are specifically tailored to making African elections safer.
These recommendations may also prove valuable in improving the safety of elections in other LMICs.
The project is a collaboration between researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the Open University of Tanzania, the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development, and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (who work with the NGO Echelle). We followed each stage of three national elections that occurred towards the end of 2020: in Tanzania, Ghana, and the Central African Republic. This involved a convergent mixed-methods study design that included nationally representative population-based surveys on a range of COVID-19-related attitudes and experiences, observation of the electoral process, and qualitative interviews with government employees, political parties, civil society actors and Electoral Management Body (EMB) staff. Elections have multiple stages, many of which take place well before the polls open. For this reason, the project followed all the stages of our case study elections, including voter registration, party nominations, campaigns, voter education, polling day, tallying, and the announcement of results. More recently, we have also conducted qualitative research during byelections in Kenya. In this short paper, we focus on 1) issues relating to the protocols themselves, 2) the compliance and enforcement of these protocols, and 3) voter education. We suggest improvements to the ways in which existing measures can be applied in practice, and we highlight the areas in which the risks of spreading SARS-Cov-2 have tended to be overlooked in the elections that we have been following. To read our country-specific working papers, please visit our project website:
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Molony, T. & Macdonald, R. 2021, Reducing the Transmission of COVID-19 during African Elections:technical considerations, University of Edinburgh. Available at: https://www.research.ed.ac.uk/en/publications/a4f40667-def0-432c-bc74-80d0802bb60e