Elections and COVID-19

The global spread of COVID-19 has already profoundly impacted the health and welfare of citizens around the world. Decisions being made about how elections are run during the pandemic will have a further profound effect, shaping the health of democracy in the future.

The ESRC has funded this project on that involves commissioning a range of country case studies, in collaboration with International IDEA, that will be published on this website and eventually in an edited volume.

The project is led by Toby James (University of East Anglia), Alistair Clark (University of Newcastle) and Erik Asplund (International IDEA).

Cases and other resources from Electoral Management Network members will be shared on this page as they become available. Please get in touch to share your resources.

Comparative Analysis:

Available Case Studies:

  • France – Romain Rambaud, Université Grenoble-Alpes, France
  • Poland – Vasil Vashchanka, International IDEA
  • South Korea – Antonio Spinelli, International IDEA
  • Scotland – Alistair Clark, Newcastle University
  • Queensland, Australia, Ferran Martinez i Coma, Griffith University, Australia
  • Bavaria, Germany – Rebecca Wagner, Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany
  • Mali – Robert Gerenge, African Union
  • Russia Iuliia Krivonosova, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia
  • USA, Kate Sullivan, independent expert
  • Brazil – Gabriela Tarouco, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Brazil

Forthcoming Country cases:

  • Spain – Jordi Barrat, Rovira i Virgili University, Brazil
  • Nigeria – Ibrahim Sani, Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigeria
  • Ghana – Fortune Agbele and Ghadafi Saibu, University of Bayreuth, Germany
  • Netherlands – Leontine Loeber, University of East Anglia, UK
  • India – Saket Ambarkhane, India International Institute of Democracy & Election Management
  • Jordan – Fida Nasrallah, international elections expert

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 (see: IDEA).
  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 (see: James & Alihodzic; Asplund & James).
  3. The cost of holding elections during the pandemic are significantly rising, so policy makers will need to invest further resources (see: Asplund, James and Clark)
  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 (see:James & Alihodzic; James).
  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 (see: Spinelli, Vashchanka, James).
  6. Policy makers should consider the impact of Covid on the whole electoral cycle and not just election day (see James).
  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 (see Vashchanka, James).
  8. There is a danger of inaction owing to partisan disagreements – so cross-party working should be encouraged (see James).
  9. There should be wide consultation of citizens and stakeholder groups to identity the needs of vulnerable groups and to build confidence and transparency (see James).
  10. Deadlines will often have to be extended to enable electoral officials to deliver the election (see: Clark).

What happens after postponement? (from James and Asplund, 2nd September 2020)

Examples of countries with increased costs as a result of COVID (from Asplund, James and Clark, 14th July 2020).

JurisdictionAdditional costs citedEstimated additional cost quoted (US dollars)Voting age populationAdditional cost per voter ($)
Australian Capital TerritoryEarly voting; staff hours; public information campaigns$1.6 million283,1625.65
Canadian province of SaskatchewanFace masks and thousands of litres of hand sanitiser and disinfectant$0.3 million815,0000.38
IndonesiaHealth measures$ 98.8 million191,671,9840.52
South KoreaPersonal protective equipment$ 16 million43,814,5040.37
Sri LankaHand sanitisers and additional works$32–37 million15,262,7702.26
UgandaTrain polling officials; temperature checks; hands sanitisers$14.6 million17,110,6600.85
UkraineUnspecified$46 million35,723,1241.29
USAPostal voting; in-person voting; online registration; public education$2 billion255,152,7037.84

Examples of countries using Special Voting Mechanisms (from Asplund et al., 23 Oct 2020)

Alternative voting methodsCountries
Postal votingAustralia (Northern Territory), India (Karnatacka), Montenegro, USA, South Korea, Spain(Basque Country and Galicia)
Proxy votingCroatia, Spain (Basque County and Galicia)
Advance votingBermuda
Home and institution-based votingBelarus, Czech Republic*, Lithuania, Italy, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Suriname*, Israel*
Arrangements in polling stationsBelarus, Czech Republic*, Jamaica, Malaysia (Sabah)*, India (Odisha), Italy, Sri Lanka*, South Korea, USA (Idaho)
None of the above – people with COVID-19 are restricted from votingBelize, Chile, Singapore, Taiwan (Kaohsiung)

Evidence to Parliaments based on the project:


Other Guidance for holding an election during COVID

Other Country Analysis

Other research from the Electoral Management Network, outside of this project:

Photo credit: Tedward Quinn