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Elections in the Time of COVID-19



Public Virtual Event


June 23, 2021 (US) | June 24, 2021 (Asia)

Session 5 of the “Adapting to COVID-19: Indonesia, the United States, and the Indo-Pacific”
Virtual Forum Series



Dr. Staffan Darnolf
Senior Global Election Operations & Administration Advisor,
International Foundation for Electoral Systems

Ms. Evi Novida Ginting
General Election Commission of the Republic of Indonesia (KPU RI)

Mr. Fritz Edward Siregar
Election Supervisory Body of the Republic of Indonesia (BAWASLU RI)

Key Findings

On June 23, with support from the US Embassy Jakarta and in partnership with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, the Pacific Forum hosted the fifth session of the “Adapting to COVID-19: Indonesia, the United States, and the Indo-Pacific” Virtual Forum Series. The topic of discussion in this session was “Elections in the Time of COVID-19,” with over 70 participants from government, private sector, academia, and other non-governmental organizations.

Dr. Staffan Darnolf, Senior Global Election Operations & Administration Advisor, International Foundation for Electoral Systems; Ms. Evi Novida Ginting, Commissioner, General Election Commission of the Republic of Indonesia (KPU RI); and Mr. Fritz Edward Siregar, Commissioner, Election Supervisory Body of the Republic of Indonesia (BAWASLU RI) shared their perspectives on the challenges faced by the United States and Indonesia in conducting democratic elections at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Philips J. Vermonte of CSIS Indonesia moderated the discussion.

Key findings from the virtual dialogue are described below:

The Implications of COVID-19 on Democratic Expression

In Indonesia and the United States, elections are enshrined as a citizen’s basic right, and a fair and free election cements an individual’s right to express their political opinion. Ensuring social distancing precautions complicated the electoral process and, as not always enforced, made the guarantee of public health difficult. Policymakers in Jakarta and Washington faced the dilemma of developing electoral best practices to navigate elections without compromising public safety. In Indonesia, following discussions between the People’s Representative Council of Indonesia (Dwan Perwalikan Rakyat Republik Indonesia), the government, and the General Elections Commission of Indonesia (Komisi Pemilihan Umum, KPU), the decision was made to postpone the 2020 Simultaneous Regional Head Elections from September to December due to public health concerns. In contrast, the United States kept to its quadrennial schedule, and carried out its 59th presidential election on November 3, 2020.

Ability to Adapt to Changing Public Necessities 

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have shown remarkable resilience in their ability to adopt public health requirements for the purpose of hosting physical elections. Indonesia and the United States are two of the many countries that decided to move forward with elections in the face of the pandemic. KPU worked closely with Indonesia’s national COVID-19 task force, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Politics and Law and Security, among others, to implement public health measures during the simultaneous regional head elections. In the 298,938 polling stations scattered throughout Indonesia, such measures included: restrictions on physical gatherings and celebrations; a push for campaigns organized and hosted via online media; specific protocols for voters with a body temperature of 37.3℃ (99.14°F) or above; mandatory mask wearing and social distancing measures; and polling staff dripping ink onto voters’ fingers to signify participation, rather than the customary communal pool of ink. In addition to these processes, criminal provisions were created to help ensure compliance with the public health measures. Similarly, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidance measures for polling stations intended to keep voters and staff safe. In particular, the CDC guidelines empathized hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, mask use, social distancing, ventilation systems, physical barriers and guides, scheduled or staggered voting, and mail-in ballots.

Centrality of Physical Voting Systems

Pilot studies of e-voting systems have been carried out in a number of countries, including Norway, Germany, and Austria. However, difficulties in guaranteeing the secrecy of individual votes and concerns related to hacking have consistently prevented the adoption of such technology in those countries. In Indonesia, although e-voting would be enormously beneficial from a public health perspective, many Indonesian citizens still lack Internet access. Additionally, the transparency brought by tangible and quantifiable ballot papers remains much preferred by Indonesian citizens distrustful of the electoral process. In the United States, voting using direct-recording electronic voting machines (DREs) is quite common, but Internet voting remains limited to citizens in special circumstances, such as nationals living abroad or military personnel deployed overseas. Early voting and postal votes are also two important electoral processes that help to reduce the risk of COVID-19 on election day. Although in-person voting can be perceived as complicating a government’s duty to ensure public health, the elections held in Indonesia and the United States demonstrated that with proper planning, an extensive information campaign, and strict adherence to proper pandemic protocols, elections can be held during a pandemic.

This document was prepared by Tom Connolly. For more information, please contact Dr. Crystal Pryor ([email protected]), Director of Nonproliferation, Technology, and Fellowships at Pacific Forum. These preliminary findings provide a general summary of the discussion. This is not a consensus document. The views expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants. The speakers have approved this summation of their presentation.

About this Series

The U.S.-Indonesia bilateral relationship is one of substantial depth and has evolved over time to reflect the changing priorities of each country. The U.S. and Indonesia entered into a Comprehensive Partnership in 2010 that initiated consistent high-level engagement on various issues spanning democracy and civil society, education, security, resilience, and mitigation. The relationship was further upgraded in 2015 with the signing of the US-Indonesia Strategic Partnership, which expanded the cooperation into various issues that have regional and global significance.

At the turn of a new decade, our countries are both at a crossroads: confronting a highly volatile political, economic, and security environment in the midst of an international health crisis.

To this end, Pacific Forum is proud to launch the virtual series “Adapting to COVID-19: Indonesia, the United States and the Indo-Pacific,” with support from the US Embassy in Jakarta. Pacific Forum will collaborate with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies Indonesia (CSIS Indonesia) throughout this series.

The nine-part virtual series will address broad, cross-cutting issues that impact both countries: emerging security issues, COVID-19, regional and bilateral trade and investment, and democracy and civil society. It will feature American and Indonesian experts with diverse yet complementary backgrounds to examine the trajectory of US-Indonesia relations in the new normal.

Latar Belakang

Hubungan bilateral AS-Indonesia adalah hubungan yang mendalam dan telah berevolusi seiring waktu untuk merefleksikan perubahan prioritas masing-masing negara. AS dan Indonesia memasuki Kemitraan Komprehensif (Comprehensive Partnership) pada tahun 2010 yang memulai kerja sama tingkat tinggi secara konsisten di berbagai isu yang mencakup demokrasi dan masyarakat sipil, pendidikan, keamanan, ketahanan, dan mitigasi. Hubungan ini ditingkatkan lebih lanjut pada tahun 2015 melalui penandatanganan Kerja Sama Strategis (Strategic Partnership) AS-Indonesia, yang memperluas kerja sama ini ke berbagai isu yang memiliki signifikansi regional dan global.

Memasuki dekade baru ini, kedua negara kita ada di persimpangan jalan, menghadapi lingkungan politik, ekonomi, dan keamanan yang tidak stabil di tengah-tengah sebuah krisis kesehatan internasional.

Maka dari itu, Pacific Forum dengan bangga meluncurkan seri virtual “Beradaptasi dengan COVID-19: Indonesia, Amerika Serikat, dan Wilayah Indo-Pasifik”, dengan dukungan dari Kedutaan Besar AS di Jakarta. Pacific Forum akan bekerja sama dengan Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) sepanjang seri virtual ini.

Seri virtual sembilan-bagian ini akan menjawab isu-isu yang luas yang berdampak ke kedua negara: isu-isu keamanan yang muncul, COVID-19, perdagangan dan investasi regional dan bilateral, serta demokrasi dan masyarakat sipil. Seri ini akan melibatkan pakar-pakar Amerika dan Indonesia dengan latar belakang yang beragam namun saling melengkapi untuk mengupas alur hubungan AS-Indonesia di dalam new normal.

This series is held with support from the US Embassy Jakarta and
in collaboration with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies Indonesia.

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