Covid 19 Guidelines For Poll Workers And Electors In The Polling Stations
While in some parts of the country the restrictions related to the COVID 19 pandemic have been restricted, many provinces still those restrictions in place. In any case, the Ni-Vanuatu electoral authorities are committed to ensure that the essential electoral services are maintained, within the required sensitive health guidelines and protocols. These notes highlight the most important measures to be followed by poll workers and voters at the polling station.
Pre-polling measures include the following, to be adopted by electoral officials:
- Careful planning of polling according to local conditions;
- As much as possible, re-distribution of polling stations to favor reduction in the number of voters at each station and enhance voter accessibility;
- Timely provision of accurate information about the voting process
- Ensuring that the necessary equipment to fulfill the health protocols are present before the opening of the polls, such as hand sanitizers, alcohol wipes used to disinfect surfaces, and signs to ensure social distancing
Install hand-washing stations fully equipped with soap, water, disposable hand towels, and hands-free garbage bins.
At the Polling Station
Poll workers should ensure that, at the polling station:
- Before they enter the station, guide voters as necessary on the voting process, to ensure smooth flow at the polling stations;
- Allow sufficient time to voters to cast their ballots (as the polling process is likely to take longer than usual);
- There is regular cleaning and disinfecting of the premises, with high priority to high-touch surfaces;
- All present at the station wear approved facial masks;
- There is physical distancing (at least 2 meters between people), altering workspaces if possible to allow workers and voters to maintain social distancing and physically separate employees from each other and from customers; strict social distancing should be enforced in poll queues;
- Proper ventilation systems are in place and operate optimally, and provide acceptable indoor air quality for the current occupancy level for each space.
- Comply with the measures instituted by poll workers;
- Wear appropriate face coverings;
- Maintain physical distancing;
- Adhere to proper personal hygiene practices; sneeze or cough etiquette, and hand washing/hand sanitization practices.
Considerations for implementation of electoral activities under the pandemic
The world-wide pandemic due to the spread of COVID 19 virus has had significant effects on the electoral process world-wide. Since the beginning of the pandemic many elections around the world were postponed around the globe. Vanuatu was, in 2020, the first country in the world to hold general elections following the declaration of the pandemic. These experiences showed that it is possible to maintain the electoral processes successfully, using good public health practices that can minimize transmission of COVID 19.
When the pandemic was declared, municipal and by-elections were postponed in Vanuatu, but now they are back in the electoral agenda. At the moment, there are a number of electoral events pending in the country, and there is no intention of postponing them. Nevertheless, the Ni-Vanuatu electoral authorities are committed to providing electoral services to the population that are responsible in terms of public health. This is , however, a joint effort, including not just the electoral authorities but also other governmental agencies, as well as political parties, candidates, civil society and the voters at large. This document is intended to make explicit the framework underlining in general the public health considerations regarding electoral processes, detailing the general policy principles adopted by the Ni-Vanuatu electoral authorities, aiming to prevent or minimize the impact of the health crisis on electoral processes, while preserving the integrity of the electoral system.
COVID and elections:
Since the beginning of the COVID 19 crisis, a large number of countries, territories and areas have been confronted with how elections and related activities could be carried out ensuring protection of voters, electoral staff and other relevant stakeholders and workers. Without appropriate risk-mitigating strategies in place, electoral events can lead to spikes in the number of cases and bring an overtaxed health system closer to collapse. Despite the challenges, many countries were able to power through public health crises and hold successful elections. While experience has proven that holding elections amid public health crises is possible, considerable planning is needed to avoid exacerbating an already difficult situation.
Elections usually involve large gatherings, not only on polling day but also, for example, during campaign rallies and voter registration drives. These events increase human-to-human contact and the risks of direct and indirect disease transmission. These mass- gathering electoral events create the potential to amplify the spread of the virus that causes COVID 19.
Lower risk election polling settings include those with: a)a wide variety of voting options; b) longer voting periods (more days and/or more hours); c) any other feasible options for reducing the number of voters who congregate indoors in polling locations at the same time. Elections with only in-person voting on a single day are higher risk for COVID 19 spread because there will be larger crowds and longer wait times. Authorities should provide options to integrate good public health practices into electoral operations Depending in the context, it is clear that many countries, including Vanuatu, will continue to rely on in-person operations for electoral processes taking place during the pandemic. Electoral officials should be ready to come up with contingency plans in order to make sure elections are accessible, secure, and accurate, and that voters are safe. Specific arrangements will be required for administering elections under the pandemic and for allowing citizens to be properly informed.
COVID and elections:
Mitigating Measures For Poll Workers And Electors
The virus that causes COVID 19 is mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. Personal prevention practices (such as handwashing, staying home when sick) and environmental cleaning and disinfection are important actions electoral officials, poll workers, and voters can take to help lower the risk of COVID 19 spread. These practices include: proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting and staying home when sick. Since each election and community is different, it is up to individual operators and organizers to determine which strategies, or combinations of strategies, are most appropriate in their facility or for their activity. Organizers are encouraged to promote COVID 19 vaccination to staff, volunteers, attendees, and other eligible persons as part of their public health strategy.
As decided by risk assessments, electoral officials are asked to consider any public health measures in place when planning or participating in any electoral activity. All electoral officers should be trained on measures to minimize the transmission of respiratory infections (masking, distancing, and use of protective barriers, where applicable).
Finally, the electoral administration must ensure that the provision of additional resources at the different venues (such as hand sanitizers, paper towels, tissues, disinfectant wipes) for electoral activities is opportune and sufficient. Electoral authorities will have to process additional procurements for a number of supplies intended to mitigate the risks of disease transmission during the various phases of the electoral process. It is essential that the appropriate resources are defined, suppliers identified and procurements completed as transparently and quickly as possible so everything arrives on time and in sufficient quantity.
A voter can minimize the risk of COVID 19 transmission at polling locations by using personal prevention practices. This includes wearing a mask and maintaining at least six feet of distance from people who don’t live with you. Voters can also: a) follow preventive measures for transportation to and from the polls; b) check voting locations and requirements before going to vote because these may have changed due to COVID 19; c) try to avoid crowds; d) vote at off-peak times, such as mid-morning.
Face coverings (masks) are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Information should be provided to poll workers on proper use, removal, and washing of masks. In all cases, alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol should be provided at the station so voters can sanitize their hands after removing their masks. A plastic barrier between the voter and the poll worker can provide additional protection.
Another vital step in the preparations for elections under the pandemic is the training of polling staff, in particular in regards to any measures implemented to control the risk of spreading the virus through electoral activities. Poll worker training should be delivered as safely as possible, such as by limiting numbers at sessions and holding more of them, or by using larger venues to ensure distancing can be maintained between staff.
Adequate and timely communication to electoral stakeholders is essential. Additionally, Electoral authorities should strive to maintain or increase the total number of polling places available to the public on polling day to improve the ability to social distance. Polling officials must ensure that ventilation systems in polling stations operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible, for example by opening windows and doors.
COVID and elections:
The Vanuatu context
In Vanuatu general elections took place on 19 March 2020 in the presence of the threat of COVID 19 but without any confirmed cases in the country. UNDP advocated for closer coordination of the Electoral Commission (EC) and the Electoral Office (VEO) with other government agencies and provided advice and liaison with other UN agencies. As a result, a protocol of handling of electoral material returning from quarantine areas was established and implemented. Social distancing was established as a standard practice in polling stations and hand sanitizers were included as an integral part of the polling kits. As these sanitizers started running out, UNDP supported the development of an innovative solution to disinfection of electoral material and hands at polling stations, in collaboration with a local distillery, using alcohol and a recipe from WHO to produce this in-country.
The successful implementation of the 2020 general elections was due in part to the fact that most pre-electoral activities took place before the pandemic was declared. That has not been the case in later events nor will it be in scheduled elections ahead. The decisions as how to proceed with electoral process in the country are respectful of the legal framework and are advised on sound technical and medical information. This is why cooperation among different government agencies and other electoral stakeholders is so important. The EC/VEO have determined that clear and comprehensive communication is more important than ever under the health crisis and have made voter information and awareness a pillar of upcoming electoral preparations.
It should be noted that while in many countries various alternative voting methodologies have been implemented (such as postal or electronic voting), the only realistic option for Vanuatu is to continue with in-person voting. There are still no legal provisions, nor logistical possibilities, to implement in the near future special voting measures, such as early voting. Additionally, the registration of citizens by the Civil Registry (which is the source for establishing the voter register and polling station specific electoral lists) is also in-person, and there are no feasible possibilities at the moment to modify this arrangement. Therefore, all the mitigating measures mentioned above will be applied as required and as practicable.
In any case, the Ni-Vanuatu electoral authorities highlight that minimizing the transmission of COVID 19 and protecting public health is a priority during the preparation and conduct of the upcoming elections and a strong set of measures are being put in place to ensure that the polls will be COVID-secure for all involved.