‘OUR RIGHT TO VOTE’: HOW COVID-19 IS INFECTING DEMOCRACY AROUND THE WORLD

By Audrey Bimbi, Associate Editor

COVID-19 has caused disruptions in more ways that many could have anticipated. Now added to the list of disruptions is the virus’ threat to democracy and the right to vote. As of April 15, 2020, several countries have postponed their elections to avoid putting people’s lives at risk, with South Korea currently standing out as an exception. With approximately 14,000 disinfected voting stations, South Korea is carrying out its elections in the strictest form, requiring voters to wear masks and stand about 3 feet from each other. Even those who are infected can vote by mailing the ballots. Regardless of whether countries will continue to hold elections or postpone them, the crisis brought by COVID-19 is creating several problems for the people’s right to vote all around the world.

The first problem, and perhaps the most disturbing is the dilemma of voters in countries with state-owned media. For example, several countries, including Brazil and India, have cut both the freedoms of press and expression as part of their response to the COVID-19 crisis. This increases the limits to opposition parties in the means by which they can reach people who are in lockdown and gives the incumbents an even bigger advantage than they normally have.

The difficulty in reaching the voters also leads to another problem: The fact that the lockdown has affected the meetings that would have allowed candidates to meet with their voters and appeal for their vote through other means of communication. Gestures that people seemed to take for granted until now – hugs and handshakes – have been relied on by candidates on the campaign trails because they can convey so much more than words. Being unable to communicate with voters in person becomes a significant problem when one considers that there are some voters who are being marginalized right now because of lack of internet access. Without the establishment of other means and measures to reach such voters, their marginalization could worsen.

The third problem affects both candidates and voters: There is little to no room to discuss anything but the virus on the campaign trails. Instead of discussing the variety of topics that make each candidate appealing, the discussions seem to be limited to how well they will be able to handle this crisis. For voters who are already dissatisfied with their current administrations’ response, anyone who promises better might seem like a good candidate. However, this also raises the question of whether the elected candidate is well-equipped to handle the state of affairs in the life after COVID-19.

These are just a few of the problems that COVID-19 is creating for democracy around the world. In some unfortunate situations, leaders will probably opt to hold elections in hopes that low voter-turnout will work in their favor, while others will indefinitely postpone elections as a means of holding on to power. Regardless of the choices made by these leaders, the crisis surrounding COVID-19 is proving just how important the people’s right to vote is and raises concerns as to how it can be protected.

References

Dave Lawler, Countries grapple with how to hold elections during coronavirus, Axios (Apr. 13, 2020) available at https://www.axios.com/elections-coronavirus-2020-postoned-a662197b-89b7-4c26-8927-aef8c3d2529a.html

Hyonhee Shin, S.Korea holds parliamentary election under strict safety measures amid pandemic, Reuters (Apr. 14, 2020, 9:23 PM) available at https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-southkorea-election/s-korea-holds-parliamentary-election-under-strict-safety-measures-amid-pandemic-idUSL3N2C3098

Julia Hollingworth and Yoonjung Seo, South Korea is holding an election during the coronavirus crisis. Other countries are postponing theirs. Either way, democracy may suffer, CNN (Apr. 14, 2020 10:30 PM ET) available at https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/13/asia/elections-coronavirus-pandemic-intl-hnk/index.html

Kylie MacLellan and Guy Faulconbridge, Britain was too slow to act on COVID-19, opposition leader says, Reuters(Apr. 15, 2020, 3:34 AM) available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-britain/britain-was-too-slow-to-act-on-covid-19-opposition-leader-says-idUSKCN21X0SV

Laura Bicker, Coronavirus: South Korea holds elections in masks and clinics, BBC (Apr. 15, 2020) available athttps://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52275993

Maria Ressa, COVID-19: We Can’t Let the Virus Infect Democracy, Time (Apr. 14, 2020) available at https://time.com/5820620/maria-ressa-coronavirus-democracy/

Yen Nee Lee, Singapore may have to hold elections during the coronavirus outbreak, says minister, CNBC (Mar. 18, 2020 3:58 PM EDT) available at https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/18/coronavirus-singapore-could-hold-elections-during-outbreak-minister-says.html

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