#COVID19Chronicles-124: August 17, 2020: Managing elections during the COVID19 pandemic

With nomination day due tomorrow, many people are anxious about the upcoming general election on September 3. They feel that the recent surge in active cases should have made the PM delay any call to vote until that seemed to level off. Of course, with a choice to be made, more waiting means more uncertainty. Nothing guarantees that later will be better in terms of what the election may do in terms of creating conditions for a COVID spike.

We’ve been urged to learn to ‘live with COVID19’, so in my mind that means applying what safeguards we can in trying to ‘accommodate’ the virus.

In that vein, Electoral Commission of Jamaica published a video of what it’s put in place for polling stations during the pandemic.

As we’re finding with the daily management of the pandemic, the weak links are not absence of protocols or advice but people’s willingness to apply them. The frenzy that often accompanies elections in Jamaica has to be curtailed and that’s down to candidates and the parties.

New Zealand is looked at as a paragon for its handling of the pandemic. However, having seemed to have put a firm lid on with over 100 days with no local cases, they’ve since had about 50 cases reported. Auckland has had to go back into lockdown:

As a result of the re-emergence of the virus, locally, New Zealand’s PM has delayed general elections by a month:


Notably, PM Ardern said it was to “to plan around the range of circumstances we will be campaigning under…This decision gives all parties time over the next nine weeks to campaign and the Electoral Commission enough time to ensure an election can go ahead,” Ms Ardern added that she had “absolutely no intention” of allowing any further delays to the vote.

New Zealand is coming up against the hard constraints of when voting must occur in their 3 year cycle; the last election being in September 2017.

Jamaicans have a short campaign ahead. However, if a report in this morning’s paper is indicative, we have even more problems than we need when those in charge of enforcement are falling down on the task:

While, I think the government has done a good job of managing most aspects of the pandemic, it Achilles heel may well be the inability to get most parts of the population to take the pandemic seriously all the time. If your supposed strong fences are now also your weak fences you’re on a hiding to nothing. People may well express their frustration or annoyance with events like this or reports of people breaking quarantine and register than negative sentiment at the polls. It’s never over till the fat lady sings. 

What every country will have to learn is how to best handle their elections during the pandemic. The upcoming US presidential elections offer options many countries don’t have, with mail-in ballots, even though that has become a political issue. For most others, it’s about getting out the message about health protocols and putting in place the measures to ensure their observance. The need for that won’t change in the near-term. The worst case scenario for many countries is what to do if they are due to hold elections but have most of the population locked down. In that regard, better to hold elections while that doesn’t prevail, knowing that it may be an option after, if expected spikes in cases materialize. 

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

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