The Commonwealth Secretariat has published guidance for member states preparing to hold elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The paper, Managing Elections in the Context of COVID-19: Perspectives from the Commonwealth (PDF) will help countries safeguard the democratic rights and freedoms of citizens without endangering their health and safety.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “The purpose of this paper and analysis is to assist our member countries in staying true to the values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter by upholding robust, accountable and inclusive electoral processes in difficult circumstances during these exceptionally challenging times.”
She continued: “Under the heading ‘Democracy’ our Commonwealth Charter recognises ‘the inalienable right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections in shaping the society in which they live’. This remains as important as ever as elections take place of representatives who will develop and scrutinise policies affecting so many areas of peoples’ lives and livelihoods as nations and communities mobilise for recovery from the impacts of pandemic and to build back better.”
The topical paper draws on a survey of Commonwealth election management bodies (EMBs), individual stakeholder interviews, and a review of policy documents, webinars, and the online presences of Commonwealth EMBs.
The Secretariat’s research highlights emerging good practice from member countries who have introduced a variety of modifications to protect citizens and reduce the risk of spreading the virus during electoral activities, from voter registration through to polling and counting.
Professor Luis G. Franceschi, Senior Director of the Secretariat’s Governance and Peace Directorate, said:“This paper brings together insights and innovations from EMBs in every region of the Commonwealth, providing a valuable resource for electoral stakeholders preparing for polls in unprecedented circumstances.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic is still a developing situation, it has become clear that for the foreseeable future, EMBs will have to continue to make adjustments to their activities throughout the electoral cycle. The paper ends with a list of conclusions – principles and lessons learned – to support EMBs as they prepare for and deliver elections in this ‘new normal’.
This paper will be followed by regional studies focussing on the specific challenges and experiences faced in different parts of the Commonwealth.