Webinar | Recent European Elections During the Pandemic: Georgia, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine
When the COVID-19 pandemic started in early 2020, many countries in Europe and Eurasia postponed scheduled elections to later in the year when it was believed the effects of the pandemic would be less prevalent. Several elections were conducted in the region in late 2020, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. These elections were held at a time when the spread of the virus in many countries was notably worse than it was during the spring of 2020.
To facilitate information and experience sharing between countries in the region, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) Regional Europe Office organized the seventh webinar in its Democratic Resilience in Europe During a Pandemic series, dedicated to the lessons learned from holding elections in Georgia, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine in recent months. The webinar took place on January 28, 2021, with a record of 204 participants, and featured simultaneous interpretation into seven languages (Albanian, Armenian, Georgian, Macedonian, Russian, South Slavic language and Ukrainian).
The webinar was opened by Anya Cumberland, IFES’ deputy director for Europe and Eurasia, who introduced the webinar topic and discussed the various activities of IFES’ field offices in Georgia and Ukraine, both of which work closely with the election management bodies in their respective countries.
The next presenter, Tamar Zhvania, chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Georgia, spoke about the challenges that the institution faced during their election process, mainly “adjusting of operations and plans at every stage of the electoral cycle, reviewing regulations and procedures, enhancing coordination with health, security and other authorities and increasing public outreach. Accordingly, we had to prioritize which health and safety measures to implement, find solutions for new logistical challenges and make tough choices regarding the conduct of elections at that time.” The Georgian CEC created a working group with representatives from election administration, civil society organizations, parliamentary political party representatives and international organizations to discuss key safety measures to adhere to on Election Day.
Following Zhvania’s presentation, participants heard from Vajda Zsombor, the vice president of Romania’s Permanent Election Authority. Zsombor spoke about the Romanian experience of holding parliamentary and presidential elections in 2020. Participants learned how Romania had to adapt its electoral procedures during the pandemic, from electoral reform to implementing new internet and communication solutions and introducing new ways of reaching voters and other stakeholders.
The next speaker was Dorin Cimil, chairperson of the CEC of Moldova, who spoke about the special measures the institution introduced during the election, such as having voters bring their own pens, checking voters’ temperatures at polling station entrances and regularly sanitizing polling stations throughout the day. The CEC introduced voting from home for voters in quarantine and special polling places for people voting from abroad. Cimil also touched upon some of the challenges they faced while preparing for the election, such as securing mobile ballot boxes for voters in the country and making sure the polling stations were not overcrowded.
The final speaker, Vitalii Plukar, from Ukraine’s CEC, dove into challenges the country faced when organizing their election. Plukar mentioned the adoption of the new electoral law; the reform of the administrative and territorial system; the right to vote for people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; informing members of election commissions about the organization of work in a pandemic; and ensuring the health and safety of voters on Election Day. Plukar also spoke about positive aspects that occurred on Election Day — mainly the high number of citizens in compliance with the mask mandate and social distancing during the election process and very tolerant attitudes toward other voters and polling staff, including members of the CEC.
Published on March 8, 2021.