By Abel Merawi
May 21, 2020 (Ezega.com) -- From the start of May, the major discussion in Ethiopian politics has centered around the upcoming elections. The government had proposed four alternatives to extend the election due to COVID-19. The first option was dissolving the parliament by the prime minister, and to hold the election within six months of the implementation in accordance with Article 60. The second option was extending the state of emergency every four-months with two-third parliament approval. The third option was a constitutional amendment with two-thirds of both houses and regional state councils. The fourth and approved option is seeking an interpretation of Articles 54/1, 58/3, and 93 of the constitution from House of Federations. In the following parts, we will explore other options and consider their applicability in the Ethiopian context.
Nations around the world are facing challenges of the election due to COVID-19. Accordingly, there are some alternatives proposed by various experts around the world. They can be viable options for Ethiopia too. They include electronic voting, voting by mail, and also the changing of election day into election month(s). I think, the above options have not been considered currently, but I hope to contribute to the wider discussion.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, electronic voting (e-voting) has been considered as a possible means for election. While some developed countries still partially implement it, Ethiopia has recently started to consider it for the future. Since 2010, America has been widely using e-voting for military and overseas voters. Some states in the US also use at-home voting for blind and disabled voters to increase voter turnout. With the current coronavirus crisis, shifting focus to e-voting can prevent the extension of the election timetable. As Joe Brotherton, chairman of Democracy Live for electronic voting says, “adoption of more advanced technology – including secure, transparent, cost-effective voting from out mobile devises – is more likely.” Accordingly, electronic voting is not an option only during COVID-19 but also for the future.
Delaying elections indefinitely may bring an unwelcomed result. Considering the antagonism between Ethiopian political parties, postponing could not be a long-term solution. To prevent undesirable consequences, the other option for election is mail voting. This method, also called postal voting, refers to election whereby ballot papers are distributed to electors and returned by post. This is not something new and it has been practiced in most developed countries along with in-person voting. For instance, it had been used for the European Parliament election in 2004 by England. More recently in 2016, for Australian federal election 1.2 million (8.5%) votes were made using mail voting. Furthermore, Washington, Oregon, and Utah already allow everyone to vote through the mail. Kevin R. Kosar, vice president of research partnerships at the R Street Institute, states its benefit during COVID-19 by saying, “there are a time-tested means for the country (USA) to escape the choice between protecting public health and allowing voters to exercise their right to vote: voting by mail.” I believe Ethiopia too should at least consider the practicality of mail voting to prevent the consequences of delaying the election.
Assuming Ethiopia implements e-voting and/or mail voting, the question of timeframe also needs to be considered. And we should ask: Why can’t election day become election month(s)? Until now we have used the term ‘election day’ because it is assumed that the whole election is held in a single day. However, election day is mostly a nominal term rather than a real or practical one. In countries that already use e-voting and postal voting, the votes come earlier or after election day. Also in previous Ethiopian elections, there were areas who voted after election day due to political unrest or other issues. For this reason, it will not be irrational to consider extending the timeframe for election from a day to even a month.
The primary reason for delaying the Ethiopian political election is the spread of COVID-19. Election day creates a mental picture of long and stuffed queues of people. This happens only because voters are expected to cast their ballot in a single day. But if this deadline is relaxed and people are presented with the opportunity to vote on any day of ‘election month’, there will not be crowded voting stations. This alternative has the additional benefit of increasing voter turnout. People who were not able to vote for various reasons during election day can be encouraged if they can vote within a month.
The above alternatives for the Ethiopian political election can be more practical if used in combination. Consider the following scenario as an example of the coming Ethiopian election. For urban areas and educated people with more technological options, elections can be carried out using e-voting. Then, the people who have postal addresses can receive and return their ballot papers through the post. Just by implementing these two alternatives, the number of people who vote in person will significantly decrease. Then for the remaining electorate, the common in-person voting can be implemented with an extended deadline. The process of assigning election days for people in each area can be done alphabetically or by segmentation of areas. Thus, by presenting people with more options for voting, the process can go smoothly without creating crowds. By properly enforcing the use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) during the election, it can be carried out in a shorter time.
The process of implementing these methods demands more resources, yet it can be done. Personally, the biggest fear is not with technological practicality, it is with the political parties themselves. In other words, they don’t trust each other and will be busy present allegations. Sadly, they will do a much better job of showing how these alternatives would fail rather than trying to implement it. Currently, holding elections in the usual manner is a health risk. But while postponing the election, we must also look for solutions. Claiming that election can’t be held as long as COVID-19 exists is not wise. The election is currently extended, but we don’t know for how long. We can regain the control we lost not by sitting idly and waiting for the pandemic to go away, but by considering unexplored alternatives.
Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. He can be reached through this form.
Other articles by Abel Merawi:
Our Online World
Fame Mistaken for Expertise
The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers
A Time to Reflect
The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!
History of Pandemics in Ethiopia
Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective
You Can Make a Difference
Rule of Law for a Free Society
The Origins of Law
Determinants of Market Value: Part II
Determinants of Market Value: Part I
Your life Matters Too
Manifestations of Artistic Expression
Achievements vs Natural Accidents
The Grip of Sacrifice
Injustice is Never Justifiable
Education Demands of the Future
Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future
The Shift From Racism to Culturism
Sacrificing Meaning for Power?
Culture and Market Forces
Seeking Cosmic Justice
National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations
Are We Truly Free?
Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy
Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group
The Value of Work
The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System
Intellectuals and the People
Where Are Our Pathfinders?
The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders
The Truth Behind Humanity
The Seven Virtues
The Seven Deadly Sins
What is the right thing to do?
Building National Identity
Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change
Living the Truth as a Human Being
Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others
The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them
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