Home voting, PPE suits: How South Korea, Taiwan held polls during pandemic
When mask-wearing South Koreans turned out to vote amid strict precautions for parliamentary election in April, it was the first and the most-keenly watched electoral exercise since Covid-19 disrupted political calendars around the world. Some 14,000 disinfected polling stations were set up across the country, where people voted after having their hands sanitised and temperatures checked at a safe distance from each other.
By April, South Korea had begun to successfully deal with the pandemic without major disruptions through an extensive testing and contact tracing campaign. This was reflected in the voter turnout, which at 66.2% was the highest since 1992. Even around 2,800 Covid-19 patients were allowed to vote by mail or at special booths as 30 million people overall cast their ballots.
South Korea’s National Election Commission (NEC) officials shared the success story at a webinar that the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB) held on Monday. The Election Commission of India (ECI) presided over the event.
The South Korean officials explained how they implemented a three-phase voting protocol for Covid-19 patients under quarantine and ensured home voting for those, who had tested positive for the disease in the run-up to the polls.
The webinar was held ahead of the elections to the 243-member Bihar assembly due in November when around 70 million voters are expected to vote. The Bihar polls will be the first major election since the pandemic hit India. There have been polls to Rajya Sabha and legislative council seats, but they involved a limited number of voters. The ECI is planning to allow physical rallies, but with a limited public presence. Online filing of nomination forms is also expected along with limited door-to-door campaigning and a reduced number of people at polling booths and counting halls.
Chief election commissioner Sunil Arora, election commissioners Sushil Chandra and Rajiv Kumar, and ECI secretary-general Umesh Sinha spoke at the webinar, where a presentation was also made about the preparedness for the Bihar polls. “The measures taken to ensure the safety of the voters during the Rajya Sabha elections were also highlighted. There is a global consensus that the safety of the voter has to be ensured. Voters should feel safe while voting. This is the basic tenet of democracy,” said a person who attended the webinar.
Officials emphasised the importance of communication as the participants from 45 countries and several international election bodies shared relevant learning outcomes and likely solutions for electoral processes amid the pandemic.
According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, at least 69 countries and territories across the globe have postponed national and sub-national elections due to the pandemic until August 11. At least 53 countries and territories have decided to hold national or sub-national elections as originally planned despite concerns related to Covid-19.
Officials from Taiwan’s Central Election Commission, which has held polls as scheduled, said they formulated the preventive measures during by-elections in February.
Taiwanese authorities released videos to create awareness about the virus, its prevention and also set up a webpage to ensure transparency about the polling process.
Bangladeshi officials, who have conducted three parliamentary by-elections with a 65% voter turnout, shared alternative mechanisms of campaigning. Bangladesh Election Commission encouraged candidates to use social media, television, radio, newspapers, banners for canvassing instead of physical campaigning.
Indonesia, which is likely to hold local body elections on December 9 with an electorate of 270 million, has made additional budgetary allocations for them.