Protective Measures against COVID-19 that should be taken on Election Day?

(Reducing the number of Polling Station Committee members and observers, extending of polling hours, increasing of Polling Centre and Polling Station numbers to avoid overcrowding of voters, regulating the voting of persons in self-isolation – these are just some of the elements recommended by D+ to Central Election Commission (CEC) and other public institutions).

By Krenare Rushiti

The first COVID-19 cases in Kosovo were reported on 13 March 2020, and now the total number of positive cases exceeds 62,000 with 6,700 active cases, and around 1,500 people who lost their lives. From March and until today, the Government of Kosovo has taken various decisions, sometimes adopting more severe and sometimes easing the measures against COVID-19, depending on the epidemiological situation assessed by the Ministry of Health, National Institute of Public Health (NIPH).  The measures applicable as of today include wearing a mask, having and using a disinfectant, maintaining distance and movement restrictions after 21:30 hours, based on the classification of municipalities into three zones. However, despite the adverse situation with the pandemic throughout this period, the Republic of Kosovo will organize its Early Parliamentary Elections on 14 February 2021.

To avoid infecting citizens with COVID-19 on Election Day in times of a pandemic, Kosovo should follow the examples of countries in the region and beyond, in terms of the smooth running of this process. Some of the countries that held elections during the COVID-19 pandemic include: North Macedonia, Serbia, France and South Korea. Some of the measures practiced by these countries that should be followed by Kosovo include: Placing distinctive signs on the floor, in the Polling Centers, to ensure that physical distance was maintained between the voters, disinfecting hands when entering and leaving polling stations, disinfection of polling stations every hour, persons infected with COVID-19  were allowed to vote by mail,  Polling Station Committee members were required to wear a protective suit and keep a distance of three meters from each other, etc.

The omissions that occurred on the Extraordinary Mayoral Election in Podujevë/Podujevo should be avoided in the Early Parliamentary Elections in Kosovo. In order to organize the elections in this municipality, CEC passed Administrative Instruction on Protective Measures for voters and electoral staff. Some measures, such as the physical distance between the voters and Polling Station Committee members, hands’ disinfection while entering the Polling Centre were not respected. Moreover, after the polls closed, the citizens gathered at the headquarters of Lëvizja Vetëvendosje and the Democratic League of Kosovo, by completely ignoring the NIPH instructions for protection against COVID-19.

Some measures implemented to hold elections in the times of a pandemic by the above mentioned countries, that proved to be successful, may also be replicated in Kosovo, on Early Kosovo Assembly Elections. In this context, to enable as better organization of the electoral process as possible, D+ recommends as follows:

  • Reduce the number of Polling Station Committee members and observers, to avoid the overcrowding inside enclosed spaces;
  • Extend the voting hours from 07:00 to 21:00 hours, to disperse voters over a longer time interval;
  • Call on persons over the age of 65 to vote in the morning hours, while others who do not have to vote in the morning, to vote in the afternoon. This reduces a chance of the virus spreading among elderly people;
  • Increase the number of polling stations and polling centers, in order to reduce the number of voters who visit these centers and those waiting in the line to vote;
  • Regulate the manner of voting for persons in self-isolation, by engaging the CEC mobile teams with the support of the Ministry of Health staff, in order to provide them with an equal opportunity to vote with other persons;
  • Place plastic shields between the voters and Polling Station Committee members;
  • In order to avoid the gathering of people after the end of the voting process, it is recommended to establish a curfew throughout the country starting from 21:30 hours. This is aimed at avoiding the mistake that was made in this regard in the Municipality of Podujevë/Podujevo.
  • Voters should bring their own pen, to avoid contact with objects used by many people;

Disclaimer:

This article was produced under the EU funded project “Contribute to exposing flaws in institutional efforts to fighting COVID-19 pandemic through new legislation pieces and public contracts” implemented by Democracy Plus (D+).  Its contents are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.