Sorry, no hugs or kisses: How polls have changed

Members of a party in the French municipal polls watching President Emmanuel Macron's address on Thursday in Romainville, outside Paris. US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders axed a campaign rally this week at a convention centre (above
US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders axed a campaign rally this week at a convention centre (above) in Cleveland, Ohio, over the outbreak. In an era of cancelled or severely limited public gatherings and social distancing, politicians are having to find other ways to engage the public.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Members of a party in the French municipal polls watching President Emmanuel Macron's address on Thursday in Romainville, outside Paris. US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders axed a campaign rally this week at a convention centre (above
Members of a party in the French municipal polls watching President Emmanuel Macron's address on Thursday in Romainville, outside Paris. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

From virtual campaigns to elbow bumps and nods, the coronavirus pandemic is proving a headache for election organisers and politicians.

Polls are by definition a mass public gathering and politicians are by profession forced to be all embracing during campaigning, from handshakes and hugs to kissing babies.

But in an era of cancelled or severely limited public gatherings and social distancing, politicians and polling station workers are having to find other ways to engage the public to limit the chances of becoming infected - short of delaying elections altogether.

The following are some recent examples of how the coronavirus has affected elections.

UNITED STATES

Scheduled campaign events in Chicago and Miami for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are being transformed into "virtual events" ahead of next Tuesday's primaries in Arizona, Illinois, Florida and Ohio.

President Donald Trump appears to be stopping all campaign-related events indefinitely.

Officials in Arizona, Ohio and Illinois are scrambling to move polling places out of nursing homes - with early voting already well under way. Postal voting is being encouraged.

Across the country, political events are being cancelled, including some state party conventions where the delegates who vote on the nominee are elected.

FRANCE

President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that nationwide local elections scheduled for tomorrow will not be postponed.

He said he had consulted experts who were of the opinion that "there is nothing to prevent the French, even the most vulnerable, from going to the ballot box" as long as everyone observes basic infection-prevention rules, including keeping a safe personal distance from others.

Municipal officials have announced a string of protection measures, including providing hand sanitisers at polling stations.

French election candidates are greeting voters elbow to elbow, foot to foot or with the occasional Indian-style namaste.

BRITAIN

The England and Wales polling watchdog has recommended delaying May's local elections until the autumn. The Electoral Commission said there were "growing risks to the delivery of the polls", with the number of infections in the outbreak rising, the BBC reported.

Mayoral and local elections are due to take place on May 7 in England.

IRAN

The virus started in the holy city of Qom, which thousands of Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims from Iran and around the Middle East travel to and from each day. Two days after the first deaths and cases of the virus were reported in Qom, Iran held parliamentary elections on Feb 21, which are widely believed to have been the cause of the virus spreading to other provinces. The authorities failed to take protective measures at this early stage.

POLAND

The Polish Prime Minister's Chief of Staff Michal Dworczyk said on Thursday that it is too early to postpone presidential elections set for May. Earlier this week, Polish President Andrzej Duda said he will not organise large campaign meetings in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

BOLIVIA

Candidates campaigning for forthcoming presidential elections suspended rallies on Wednesday.

Movement to Socialism's presidential candidate Luis Arce Catacora and his challenger Carlos Mesa, who leads the Citizen Community alliance, said they would suspend mass gatherings ahead of the May election.

NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2020, with the headline 'Sorry, no hugs or kisses: How polls have changed'. Print Edition | Subscribe