National recovery and resilience: learning from elections during a pandemic

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Politics Philosophy Lang & Comms Studies

Abstract

Urgent policy decisions need to be made about the conduct of elections worldwide during the pandemic, not least in the UK. Elections in at least 72 countries were postponed due to COVID-19, between February and October 2020. Others have continued to hold elections - but with some adjustments such as introducing special voting mechanisms to adapt their elections to the health crisis.

It is essential for national recovery and societal resilience that lessons are learned and disseminated urgently from countries that do hold elections. Most notably, Britain is scheduled to hold elections in May 2021. These will be a 'bumper' set of polls combining scheduled local elections with those postponed from May 2020 because of the Covid pandemic, such as 40 Police and Crime Commissioner elections, the 2020 round of English local elections in 118 councils, local and combined authority directly elected mayors in England, including the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority (GLA). These will be run on the same day as Scottish and Welsh Parliamentary elections, and Police Crime and Commissioner elections, meaning that Great Britain in its entirety will be at the polls, but with no direct previous experience of doing so under pandemic conditions. What can Britain learn from the holding of polls elsewhere?

The continuous suspension of elections will deny citizens their democratic voice, and ability to hold their elected representatives to account. However, holding elections without suitable adaption to the health emergency could threaten to accelerate the spread of the disease, by bringing millions of voters, candidates, administrators and officials together on election day. It could also compromise the integrity of the election if citizens are deterred from voting because of concerns about their own health. Issues with any extension of additional accessibility measures, such as extended polling times, or remote voting, whether postal or by alternative methods, may also throw the tension between participation and electoral integrity into sharp relief.

This project draws live lessons from states and territories that have continued to hold elections. It will involve the publication of country case studies as technical papers shortly after those elections are held. It will also involve the conduct of surveys of electoral officials.

The project will draw out comparative lessons from the case studies about the mitigating steps that can be put in place to protect electoral integrity during the covid-19 pandemic. Findings and analysis about the success, or otherwise, of these COVID-19 mitigations will be used to develop policy recommendations for the stakeholders involved in the organisation of the elections in the UK and in other countries.

During 2021, the comparative case studies will be drawn together as an edited volume and published open access with view to generating broader longer term recommendations about how states can prepare in advance for future natural disasters such as an epidemic. It will therefore have longer lasting effects on preserving democracy and electoral integrity, thereby building national recovery and societal resilience.
 
Description WORKING HEADLINE FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
1. Many elections have been postponed around the world in response to Covid-19, but the vast majority have now been held or re-scheduled.
2. Postponing an election is not always an undemocratic option because electoral integrity is likely to be undermined during a pandemic, and there is also a humanitarian case for short-term postponements.
3. The cost of holding elections during the pandemic are significantly rising, so policy makers will need to invest further resources.
4. Low-tech solutions such as early voting provides one way in which elections can still be held because it spreads the traffic across several days - thereby enabling social distancing.
5. Postal voting can be used to enable vulnerable citizens to vote. The case study from South Korea shows how extending this can be effective. The case study from Poland shows, however, that there are dangers of moving to all-postal elections, however, where electoral officials have no prior experience of the system.
6. Policy makers should consider the impact of Covid on the whole electoral cycle and not just election day.
7. Late legislation should be avoided, where possible, to provide certainty about the rules of the game so that they are deliverable by electoral officials.
8. There is a danger of inaction owing to partisan disagreements - so cross-party working should be encouraged.
9. There should be wide consultation of citizens and stakeholder groups to identity the needs of vulnerable groups and to build confidence and transparency.
10. Deadlines will often have to be extended to enable electoral officials to deliver the election.
Exploitation Route See above.
Sectors Environment,Healthcare

URL https://www.electoralintegrityproject.com/elections-and-covid19
 
Description Citation in House of Commons Library material on COVID-19 & local elections
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/coronavirus-impact-on-2021-elections/?utm_source=twitter&utm_me...
 
Description Scottish Parliament Information Centre Briefing
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://sp-bpr-en-prod-cdnep.azureedge.net/published/2020/11/17/Scottish-General-Election--Coronavir...
 
Description Written Evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration & Constitutional Affairs Committee on COVID-19 & the 2021 elections
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/15072/pdf/
 
Description Written evidence to Scottish parliament on Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://yourviews.parliament.scot/sppa/scottish-general-election-coronavirus-bill/consultation/downl...
 
Description Article published on The Conversation about the Scottish elections 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An article published with The Conversation about the Scottish parliamentary elections in the pandemic. It was republished by National Interest, PMP Magazine and had over 2,000 shares on social media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://theconversation.com/scotland-is-ready-to-run-the-may-elections-despite-the-pandemic-153127
 
Description Article published on The Conversation about the Welsh elections 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact An article published with The Conversation on the forthcoming Welsh elections, drawing from international experiences. The article was re-published by the Electoral Reform Society and Yahoo News.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://theconversation.com/wales-is-giving-16-year-olds-the-vote-but-they-may-have-to-wait-a-little...
 
Description Article published on The Conversation about the local elections 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An article was published on The Conversation about the local elections in England the pandemic, urging the government to award more money to run the elections. This was republished by the Electoral Reform Society, National Interest and Yahoo News, amongst other outlets/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://theconversation.com/uk-government-has-delayed-elections-longer-than-most-countries-and-engla...
 
Description Article published on campaigning during the pandemic 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact An article was published on the International IDEA website on how campaigning took place during the pandemic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.idea.int/news-media/news/elections-and-covid-19-how-election-campaigns-took-place-2020
 
Description Article published on how special voting arrangements were expanded in 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Article published on how special voting arrangements were expanded in 2020 around the world, using initial data from the project. The article was published on the International IDEA website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.idea.int/news-media/news/elections-and-covid-19-how-special-voting-arrangements-were-exp...
 
Description Constitution Unit Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A blog was written for the Constitution Unit on the Welsh Elections (Coronavirus) Act, which enabled the postponement of elections and the use of early voting in Wales. This led to a meeting with Welsh government officials about the holding of the elections.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://constitution-unit.com/2021/02/22/wales-has-put-effective-legislation-in-place-to-make-the-se...
 
Description Local Government Chronicle article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Feature article (with Toby James) in Local Government Chronicle on funding elections under COVID-19 circumstances
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.lgcplus.com/politics/governance-and-structure/alistair-clark-toby-james-governments-must...
 
Description Oral evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Oral evidence was presented to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee. The committee considered the role of the Electoral Commission and the evidence pointed out the lessons from holding elections in the pandemic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/a7c44f57-7216-465d-b83a-8f59edfc07b7
 
Description Politico article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Media interview for Politico on the need for a postal vote information campaign when conducting elections under COVID-19 circumstances in Scotland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.politico.eu/article/scotland-election-postal-vote-conspiracies/amp/?__twitter_impression...
 
Description Presentation to Public Policy Exchange seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An invited presentation was given to the Public Policy Exchange on 'How to Ensure Trust and Safety in the UK's Electoral Process' ahead of the May polls by Professor Toby James. Other speakers included the Shadow Minister for Democracy Cat Smith. This led to a a follow up meeting with Cat Smith's Special Advisor. The audience was made up of electoral officials within the UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://publicpolicyexchange.co.uk/event.php?eventUID=LB16-PPE
 
Description Public Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Blog On COVID-19 and election mitigations in the May 2021 Scottish parliament election for the ESRC-Funded Centre on Constitutional Change
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.centreonconstitutionalchange.ac.uk/news-and-opinion/holding-scottish-parliament-election...
 
Description Radio 4 Today Programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interviewed on R4 Today Programme on running Scottish parliament elections under COVID-19 circumstances (clip 9 minutes from end)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000r3mw
 
Description Sunday National interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview for Sunday National, Scottish Sunday newspaper, on the potential for postponement to the Scottish parliament elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.thenational.scot/news/19000008.experts-insist-mays-elections-go-ahead/
 
Description Sunday Post interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview for Sunday Post on potential for election postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.sundaypost.com/fp/former-first-minister-scottish-election-will-risk-spreading-the-virus-...