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The best laid plans of mice and men

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The President and the First Lady of the United States both tested positive for Covid-19 last week. On the heels of that announcement came news of others who caught the virus as well: Trump’s campaign manager, the President’s Communications Director, the President’s Counsellor, and the Chair of the Republican National Committee—all of whom have had frequent contact with each other because of the ongoing Presidential campaign. As of this writing, and five days after Trump got infected, it’s been reported that Stephen Miller—a Trump senior policy adviser—also tested positive. This brings the number of people in this White House outbreak to 10—10 people who, immediately prior to being tested, had been working closely with Trump on public events that took place over that weekend—the first presidential debates and the announcement of the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice. Both these events are rightly characterized as being integral components of Trump’s reelection campaign.

While we, of course, pray that everyone pulls through safely, it cannot be denied that this presents us a teachable moment: the various physical components of elections and election campaigns are in drastic need of revision.

In the recently concluded budget hearings, the Comelec leadership intimated that the online submission of Certificates of Candidacy is being seriously considered. If this plan pushes through, then we may actually see the end of the fiesta atmosphere that attends the filing of COCs—big crowds assembled in front of Comelec offices, parades and rallies where people crowd in with each other. From the point of view of the Comelec, this will also mean that the massive gathering of photographers and reporters waiting for a glimpse of the potential candidates might no longer materialize.

And while this is a good first step, that is precisely all it should be – just a first step. To meaningfully prepare for Covid-safe elections, we should go further and re-examine all the in-person events that precede the filing of COCs—such as the conventions of the political parties—and all the in-person events that come after: campaign sorties, media events, and so on. And I’m not just talking about the Comelec. This task of re-evaluating the safety of old practices falls on all participants in the process—from political parties to the general public; from the candidates themselves to the voters.

And we should start this multilateral re-evaluation process now. In fact, political parties should probably be encouraged to take the lead in this—to develop safety standards and to commit to measures that will minimize the risk of infection within their ranks and amongst those they come into necessary contact with. And most of all, to protect the public. To be perfectly frank, it isn’t the best idea in the world to wait for the Comelec and the IATF to come up with rules for campaign safety, only to challenge every single rule when compliance becomes inconvenient. As they—don’t expect—suggest.

The pandemic isn’t over yet—not by a long shot. But by working together, we can make sure that the coming 2022 National and Local Elections are safer for everyone.

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