A proposal on conducting the election with Covid-19
It is a known fact that, it takes a longer time period to eliminate Covid-19 from the world. Therefore, as a country it is not satisfactory to wait until this is over as it is not likely to end in a few weeks or even in a few months. However it is possible to have it under control and practice safe behaviours and live with it. To live with it, “Prevention is better than cure” must always be in our mind.
At present, it is discussed whether to postpone the election or hold it as planned. As the number of active patients are at a gradual decrement and having no patients being identified outside the clusters at the time of writing this article, it is noticeable that Sri Lanka is currently under control. But there is no guarantee that at the time of publishing this article it stays the same or a new cluster or clusters are possible to be identified. This applies to the date of the decision of the election as well. Possibility of identifying a new cluster at any time should not be ignored. Accordingly, if the election is to be postponed the question arises about the time period of postponing it. In my opinion, the election should not be postponed and should proceed while taking all the precautions required even in a situation of having the pandemic fully under control. Hence, the purpose of writing this article is to propose suggestions on how to take the required precautions while having the election. This is mainly divided into three stages depending on the time such as pre-election time, voting time and post-election including counting of votes and celebrating results.
Election campaign should be limited to television, radio and social media. Several candidates from most of the parties would not agree with this suggestion as they are used to go near the public and be with the public etc. But in such a situation there exists a high risk of spreading the virus and may end up with having Covid-19 for another year or two. In consideration of public health, adhering to certain restriction are required. Practically, allowing each candidate in each district in the Television media is questionable. However, the priority should be given to parties and independent groups to present their policies where they can publish the experiences, qualifications and skills of the candidates to implement proposed policies as only a few TV channels are capable of covering the whole country. Alternatively, radio channels can be used to give speeches at district levels with prior notice on publishing time so that the public community can listen to the speeches. The use of social media has been used mainly to insult the competing parties or groups in the past and it is up to each group to decide the best use of social media without going into legal consequences.
Voting time is more crucial than the pre-election time period in the perspective of avoiding the spreading of the virus. At the presidential election there were approximately 45,000 polling booths having school principals and teachers serving at each polling booth and around 400 voters to vote. It is assumed that a similar arrangement is required in the upcoming election. Suggestions below are made specially to secure the officials as well as voters even if an unidentified Covid-19 carrier comes to vote who does not have any symptoms of illness.
"The purpose of writing this article is to propose suggestions on how to take the required precautions while having the election. This is mainly divided into three stages depending on the time such as pre-election time, voting time and post-election including counting of votes and celebrating results"
The marking of the finger has to be avoided this time. The suggestion is to have a facility to take a photo preferably with a smart phone camera or any other device available before entering the polling booth. Each voter has to show his face in front of the camera unmasked only for a second, his identity card, passport or driving license and the card issued by the Election Commission. An officer inside the polling booth a little far away can watch the camera via his laptop, tab or another smart phone and he has to capture the face, item to produce his identity and the card. All three (3) photos should be auto saved and auto placed in one image document. It should be made mandatory to record this by the officers. If all available resources are used for this work, it is only a matter of creating a highly secure software application to do this task independent from the operating system or with a facility to incorporate between operating systems. Once this is recorded, this document should be used against illegal voting as well. Officers should be responsible for giving a person to vote with those records. If a person claims that his vote has already been made illegally, this software and the document is to be used to check who has done it and how he has been allowed to place the vote without producing all necessary documents. If a person does not have a national identity card to be presented at the time of voting and there are no other documents to prove his identity, he has to make a complaint and do the needful before the election date. Before the election is to be held, all these new procedures should be published specially on television media.
"Voting time is more crucial than the pre-election time period in the perspective of avoiding the spreading of the virus"
The ballot paper should be given using a feeding machine with a small modification to the push switch by attaching a wire to it so that an officer can operate the feeding machine a few yards away. The pencil that is used to cross the ballot paper should be fully immersed in a disinfecting liquid. The liquid can be contained in a small pencil holder or any suitable device where the whole pencil except the writing point is immersed in the liquid. This guarantees that the virus gets disinfected even if it gets stuck on the surface of the pencil. An alternative method is to ask each voter to wash his hand after voting, but the practice of this cannot be guaranteed. However, facilities to wash hands should be provided just after placing the vote so that the virus can be destroyed, if the virus is transmitted to the hand when touching the desk that is used to mark the ballot paper. Also the patients who are not in critical conditions, suspected patients and persons in quarantine centres should be allowed to vote, but the officers should be given the facility with full kits to avoid virus transmission. Marking of voters list should be done in the same manner as previously mentioned and alternative methods of announcing the names should be looked at if it is tiresome for officers to speak the names out loud with the mask. Any problems due to power failures must be considered in implementation of all these necessary precautions. Use of laptops, tablets and/or smart phones with this kinds of applications also should be encouraged.
Before counting the votes, the ballot papers should be disinfected by a suitable method to avoid spreading the virus to the people who count the votes. Specially, after the victory, any type of a ceremony should be prohibited with the intention to avoid spreading and the public should be made aware that any incident that causes human interaction may end up in spreading of the virus.
The main purpose of this document is to minimise the risk of spreading the virus if it exists within the community but yet unidentified. It should be mentioned that these suggestions are proposed after discussing with my colleagues and friends and I cannot claim that these suggestions are absolutely on my own opinion. Also, I sincerely hope that the relevant authorities shall look into one or more fruitful suggestions out of these and refine them if we have overlooked or neglected certain aspects.
The writer is a
Department of Mechanical
University of Moratuwa