How to preserve local and regional elections during major crises? Congress members discussed this question on 28 September 2020 at a debate organised during the Statutory Forum, on the basis of a report prepared by co-rapporteurs Stewart Dickson (United Kingdom, ILDG) and Jos Wienen (Netherlands, EPP/CCE).
"In the context of major crises, the democratic legitimacy provided by free and fair elections that are held periodically is more essential than ever," Jos Wienen stressed, calling for a balance to be struck between preserving local and regional elections as a pillar of local democracy and taking into account the risks induced by crisis situations.
"We have to consider the possible consequences of postponing elections, just as we have to consider the challenges of organising elections against the backdrop of threats to the security, health and ultimately the lives of voters," insisted Stewart Dickson.
The Congress calls on member states to respect international human rights law and international electoral standards and good practice in their decisions to maintain or postpone elections for all tiers of government. It also encourages the authorities to use the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to identify examples of best practices in this regard, and to assess relevant mitigating measures on election day and possible alternative voting methods.
Major crisis situations represent another challenge for election observation of local and regional elections. In order to address this, the Congress proposes to develop an alternative strategy for on-site election observation in order to be able to respond rapidly to invitations from Council of Europe member States while guaranteeing the security of observers. It stresses that this strategy should be temporary, limited to the duration of the major crisis, and should not replace fully-fledged election observation missions carried out within the framework of the Congress' statutory activities.