Democracy Versus Health: 7 Suggestions for Safe Elections in Bolivia During a Pandemic

Por: Lykke E. Andersen, Ph.D.*

 

 

 

 

Bolivia is currently in a democratic limbo, without an elected president and with a politically, geographically and ethnically polarized society. An interim government was installed last November, which was put in charge of organizing democratic, fraud-free presidential elections as soon as possible. The General Election was first scheduled for March, then, due the COVID-19 pandemic it was postponed to May, and the current plan is September 6th 2020.

Nobody has been proven good at predicting the evolution of this pandemic, but given the current trends in Bolivia, it is obvious that there will be a high number of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Bolivia around September 6th, so carrying out elections is going to be a huge challenge.

In this blog, I hope to provide useful suggestions on how to organize election-day so as to minimize the risk of contagion, while maximizing peaceful, democratic participation.

 

  • Better outdoors than indoors

It is well-known that infection is much more likely to occur in closed, poorly ventilated spaces than outdoors, so voting tables should ideally be located outdoors on patios or soccer fields, shielded from the sun, but otherwise as open as possible.

 

  • Physical distancing, masks, and hand sanitizing

Soccer fields are ideal, as they provide plenty of space for physical distancing. Voters should maintain a 2-meter distance to other voters at all times, and wear a mask. They should be provided with alcohol or gel to sanitize their hands both before and after casting their vote.

 

  • The most vulnerable should vote first

Voting should be distributed as evenly as possible on the voting day, starting with the most vulnerable. An ideal schedule would look something like this:

 

Hour Voting Group
08:00 – 09:00 65 years or older (plus an accompanying person, if necessary)
09:00 – 10:00 Pregnant women, and women with children under 5 years of age
10:00 – 11:00 54 – 64 year-olds
11:00 – 12:00 46 – 53 year-olds
12:00 – 13:00 40 – 45 year-olds
13:00 – 14:00 34 – 39 year-olds
14:00 – 15:00 29 – 33 year-olds
15:00 – 16:00 25 – 28 year-olds
16:00 – 17:00 21 – 24 year-olds
17:00 – 18:00 18 – 20 year-olds

 

This schedule takes into account the age distribution of the voting population in Bolivia, and secures an approximately equal number of voters in each time slot. The exact age composition will differ from community to community, but it would be too complicated to have specific rules for each table.

Health personnel should be allowed to vote during any time slot, and their shifts should be organized so that they are off work at least part of the Election Day.

 

  • The pool of potential jurors should be restricted to young people under the age of 30

While risk to voters is minimal as long as they comply with the physical distancing, mask and hand sanitizing measures, the risk to the election jurors is significant, since they will be near hundreds of different people all day long. The risk would be similar to a supermarket worker or a bus driver, but Election Day is fortunately only one day, not every day.

Still, in order to minimize the risk of subsequent severe illness among election jurors, these should be the youngest and healthiest available. They should all be below the age of 30, and should be able to excuse themselves if they are pregnant or have young children, if they have any of the underlying medical conditions that are known to cause a more severe COVID-19 disease (obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, asthma, etc.), or if they feel the least bit sick.

They should obviously be equipped with adequate protective equipment and cleaning supplies, and should be allowed to take various breaks during the day.

 

  • Strict lockdown during the two weeks before the election may be a good idea

Unless infection rates are already coming down rapidly due to the natural cause of the pandemic, a strict lockdown during the two weeks before the election may be a good idea. This would help secure as little virus circulation as possible during Election Day, and thus reduced risk.

 

  • Clear communication

The electoral authorities need a carefully thought-through communication strategy, with the three following main goals: i) secure that all voters understand when and how they will be casting their votes, ii) convincingly demonstrate that all necessary precautions are being taken to make voting safe, and iii) combat misinformation that could cause confusion among voters on Election Day.

 

  • Voting should not be mandatory during the pandemic

While voting is usually mandatory in Bolivia, this rule should be eased during the pandemic. Anybody who is sick should obviously stay at home to avoid spreading disease, and people who feel particularly vulnerable should not be forced to vote.

 

Participation is still expected to be high, though, since people are very much aware that every vote counts, and there seem to be few indifferent voters in Bolivia.

 

* SDSN Bolivia.

The viewpoints expressed in the blog are the responsibility of the authors and do not reflect the position of their institutions.