How to hold an election during a pandemic is surely the only question that electoral commissions around the world are asking themselves right now. This is because in many countries there are elections in the coming months, so having options to answer these questions is not absurd at all, if we want citizens to vote. Some countries have suspended their elections, while others have continued after taking sanitary measures.
In the case of France, which held critical municipal elections across the country last Sunday, voter turnout reached less than 39%, almost 16 percent lower than in the same elections from 2014.
Under these circumstances, authorities around the world must work as soon as possible on bills or initiatives that offer voters more and better voting methods. A robust electoral system must include at least two voting alternatives: face-to-face and remote (online). Online voting should be one of the channels available for the electorate to cast their votes conveniently and securely. In turn, this reduces voter attendance at polling places, which would help with “social distancing,” the most recommended measure to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
If there is a country in the world where elections do not add up to another problem caused by the coronavirus, it is Estonia. A secure online voting platform, like Estonia’s, allows voters to cast their ballot from anywhere in the country or the world without going to a polling place. According to studies conducted by researchers from the Estonian University of Tallinn, this lowers election costs significantly, while increasing voter turnout.
Los Angeles County is also a success story election commissions should take into consideration. Its new voting system has many characteristics that could be considered as safeguards against the coronavirus. For example, voters had the option to select their candidates at their homes, and then go to the voting center to only register the vote via a QR code. Voters also had the option to deposit a mail-in-ballot at multiple collection sites distributed throughout the city. Although these measures were mainly implemented to facilitate the vote of all citizens, they end up being appropriate to foster social distancing.
When we talk about online voting, we are talking about offering the voter the convenience and flexibility of casting their vote online, from their own digital device (smartphone, laptop, tablet) and from a remote location, rather than a controlled environment such as voting centers, consulates or embassies.