Viral Elections

Dina Walker



Election day in Israel means a Vacation. Optimists and pessimists wait in line to vote. Coffee shops, parks, and beaches are packed. A smell of change in the air, depending on where you hang out. Sounds exciting, no?


Since April 2019, Israel has gone through three elections - one, every five months. The last elections, held on the 2nd of March 2020, returned the members of the 23rd Knesset. Yet, with no government on the horizon, and the Prime Minister under indictment we might still be on our way to our fourth elections, in less than two years.


On the last election day, 5,600 citizens were placed under quarantine due to the fear of exposure to the coronavirus. Sixteen special booths were set up across the country with special protection and restrictions, and 70% of the quarantined, a similar percentage to the general public, went to vote[1]. The special booths were covered by media, and frustrated masked voters, waiting in long lines, appeared on all screens and papers. If the coming elections take place during the coronavirus crisis, how will we vote?


Elections worldwide are a potentially viral transmission event, with voters standing in line close to each other, handling ballots and some using touch screens. There are great social, legal and ethical questions regarding voting during a pandemic.


Voting is the most fundamental right in the democratic structure, and it is the basis of democracy itself [2]. Voting allows all citizens to influence the choice of its representatives and the nature of the government. A century ago, in 1918, the Spanish flu which caused the death of 675,000 people in the US did not stop the elections from taking place. Similarly, in 1864 - in the midst of the civil war, Lincoln, even as he anticipated his loss to the Democrat McClellan, held the elections as planned. Elections held in times of crisis bring about additional problems of security and privacy with solutions raising even more problems, such as “vote at home” as suggested in Colorado.


The alternative of delaying elections, as announced in Bolivia (general elections), Spain, Peru, Paraguay, Kyrgyzstan, UK (local elections), Austria, Argentina (municipal elections), and many more[3], as well as 16 states in the US that have postponed their primaries[4,5], can be a threat to democracy, as demonstrated in Hungary[6]. Delaying elections may indicate the failure to maintain stability during a time of crisis and can cause a lack of trust in the government by the citizens.


Voting amid a pandemic will look different, marking paper ballots with communal pencils as common in the UK will no longer be possible, as well as waiting in long crowded queues. States will be obliged to develop cyber-protection programs for e-voting to protect the integrity and accuracy of the elections, along with public confidence and security. Governments must find the best solutions to ensure the stability of democracy. We can be sure that on the next election day we will see rubber gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer, loads of hand sanitizer.