How COVID-19 Is Changing Latin America's Election Calendar
How COVID-19 Is Changing Latin America's Election Calendar
From Chile to the Dominican Republic, we look at where and how the pandemic is postponing going to the polls.
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry—and that’s just in normal times, let alone during a pandemic. And election calendars are among the things upended by the COVID-19 crisis. Authorities in many countries find themselves seeking to balance constitutionally mandated election schedules with the public health risks of voters queueing in line for hours on end.
AS/COA Online looks at different Latin American and Caribbean elections that were on the books for 2020, and how officials in each place are adjusting.
Two cities in the provinces of Córdoba and Santa Fe were slated to hold municipal elections in 2020. In the city of Río Cuarto in Córdoba, elections were originally scheduled for March 29 but have since been rescheduled for September 27, 89 days after the current government was, per law, scheduled to step down. Come September 27, riocuartense voters will elect a new mayor, 19 councilors, and four members of the province’s Court of Accounts.
In the city of San Guillermo in Santa Fe, voters were supposed to elect a new mayor after the previous one passed away in August of last year. A primary had been scheduled for March 1 and a general round for May 10. Though the primary took place as scheduled, the pandemic delayed the general election indefinitely.
The country finds itself in the hands of an interim government after Evo Morales resigned on November 10 after disputed October 20 general election results in which he was vying for a fourth consecutive term. A special presidential election was originally scheduled for May 3 but, on March 21, authorities put the electoral calendar on hold due to the health emergency. On June 2, after weeks of back and forth, the country’s electoral authorities announced they’d come to an agreement with the political parties to hold the elections by September 6 at the latest. Their proposed calendar now goes to the Legislative Assembly for approval.
In an Ipsos poll conducted the first week of May, two-thirds of respondents did not agree with one proposal to hold elections before August. Bolivia’s confirmed COVID-19 case count increased ten-fold during the month of May, from 1,229 cases on May 1 to 10,531 cases as of June 1.
When the election does take place, it will likely be a who’s who of Bolivian politics, even more so than were the original botched elections in October 2019. Luis Arce, the man ex-President Evo Morales hand-picked to succeed him on the Movement toward Socialism ticket, led polls in February. Jeanine Añez, who was the second vice president of the Senate when she declared herself interim president on November 12, will head her own ticket, with longtime opposition heavyweight Samuel Doria Medina as her running mate. Former President Carlos Mesa—who appeared to have made the runoff against Morales last fall before the whole process got scuttled and Morales abruptly resigned—is back on the ballot, although this time with a lot more competition. Evangelical pastor Chi Hyung Chun, who placed a surprising third in the October first round, is on the ballot, as is Catholic firebrand Luis Fernando Camacho. Ex-President Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga is also making a bid. Campaigning and polling activities are suspended until the electoral calendar is officially established.
Along with president and vice president, Bolivians will also elect all members of the legislature: 36 senators and 130 deputies. All elected officials will serve for the 2020–2025 term. Morales is trying to get on the ballot for a senate seat, even though electoral authorities ruled in February that he is ineligible to run.
Even as the country becomes a new global epicenter for COVID-19 cases, local elections are slated for October 2020, marking the first nationwide vote since Jair Bolsonaro took over the presidency. At the end of May, Congress began to consider a proposal to push back the elections six weeks from an October 4 first round and October 25 runoff to November 15 and December 6, respectively. But some are doubtful that voting, which is mandatory in Brazil, can take place safely in 2020 at all. As one mayor put it, elections in October would be “impossible” and a vote in November “risky.”
In local elections, voters in all 5,570 municipalities elect mayors, deputy mayors, and city councilmembers to four-year terms. The last municipal elections in 2016 saw almost half a million candidates vying for over 69,000 posts. Over 117 million Brazilians voted in 2018 general elections.
Come October, voters will be asked if they want a new Constitution and whether the document should be drafted through a Constitutional Convention made up of members elected specifically for it or a Mixed Constitutional Convention in which half of its members will be drawn from Congress. If voters elect to draft a new Constitution, a second vote has been rescheduled to take place on April 11, 2021, alongside the country’s municipal and gubernatorial elections, to elect the Constitutional Convention members.
Stakes are high in the Dominican Republic, where voters are expected to turn out for general elections on July 5. With confirmed coronavirus cases in the country surpassing 18,000 and deaths topping 500 as of June 2, it’s the hardest-hit country in the Caribbean, and the country’s Electoral Board decided to push back the congressional and presidential general elections originally scheduled for May 17. Voters will elect a president, vice president, 32 senators, and 190 deputies, and a runoff has been rescheduled for July 26 if no presidential candidate wins over 50 percent of the vote during the first round.
With six presidential candidates from five parties and one independent, Gonzalo Castillo leads the governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) ticket since President Danilo Medina is term-limited, while Luis Abinader heads the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) ticket. In the early days of the pandemic, a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll published on March 3 by Diario Libre found that Abinader enjoyed a 28-point lead over Castillo. Nearly three months later, however, a Mark Penn Stagwell poll released on May 27 found that support for Abinader dropped while Castillo’s surged, reducing Abinader’s lead to two points. The Dominican Republic held municipal elections on March 15, during which the PRM won the majority of votes.
On May 26, the country’s Electoral Board approved a safety protocol to be applied on the July election day. The measures include the mandatory use of face masks and the disinfection of all ballots and identification cards.
President Jovenel Moïse announced on May 18 that his cabinet has called upon the country’s Provisional Electoral Council to begin preparing for new elections, though a date has not yet been specified. The president also did not clarify whether he wanted to organize presidential, municipal, or legislative elections. On May 20, Haiti’s Foreign Affairs Minister asked the Organization of American States to provide the country with technical support in its upcoming elections.
Moïse, whose five-year term is up in 2022, has been ruling by decree since January, given that the mandates of all deputies and two-thirds of the Senate expired after parliamentary elections were not held in 2019.
On April 1, Mexico’s electoral agency, known as the INE, suspended local elections in the states of Coahuila and Hidalgo originally scheduled for June 7 due to the pandemic. An INE advisor said on May 22 that he hopes those elections will take place before September, but whether or not those states are able to safely hold elections will depend on assessments by health authorities.
The country’s electoral tribunal had previously scheduled party primaries and municipal elections across the country to take place on July 13 and November 8, respectively. Though Paraguay’s Congress approved a law that delays the elections for up to a year pending presidential approval, the electoral tribunal has not yet set an official date. Lawmakers also approved a measure that those who are elected in the municipal elections in 2021 will serve a four-year term as opposed to five years to get the country’s electoral calendar back on track.
A total of 2,986 municipal seats are up for grabs––256 municipal governments and 2,730 municipal council seats.
In Peru, while two municipal elections originally scheduled for March 29 were postponed until the social distancing measures end, there are also a host of measures currently in legislative review to modify party primary and candidate selection processes ahead of general elections in April 2021. In remarks on May 30, Interim President Martín Vizcarra said he expects the hard-hit Peru to be battling COVID-19 for the following six to eight months. Though he would be eligible to run and had an approval rating of 80 percent in May, Vizcarra has said repeatedly and as recently as May 30 that he has no intention of running in next year’s elections.
As U.S. citizens, Puerto Rico-based voters can only participate in primaries leading up to U.S. general elections. The island’s 2020 Democratic Primary was scheduled to take place on March 29. After originally being rescheduled to April 26, the primary was postponed indefinitely in early April. In late May, however, the date was set for July 12.
In a statement announcing the new date, the island’s Democratic Party chairman stated that the date was set for July because it “is mandated by law,” though he would have preferred “to avoid the primary and save much needed public funds to deal with the COVID-19 emergency.” The island carries 51 of the 1,991 delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination.
On April 17, Uruguay’s electoral authority pushed local and regional elections slated for May 10 back to September 27, saying that they couldn’t ensure a safe and normal process during the health emergency.
Voters, whose participation is mandatory, will elect 19 department heads known as intendentes, 112 mayors, and over a thousand city officials around the country. With President Luis Lacalle Pou notching 55 percent approval in early May, his National Party appears, for now, to be in a good position to hold on to the majorities of both intendentes and mayors it won in the last local elections five years ago. These are the first elections since Lacalle Pou won and returned the National Party to the presidency for the first time in 15 years. As of May 10, a little under two months into the virus’ presence in the country, authorities had confirmed just 707 cases of COVID-19 and Uruguay has one of Latin America’s highest recovery rates.