“I myself advise fellow voting officers not to visit voters who are in self isolation at home [or in the hospital] because they have COVID-19,” Farid Abdurahman, a voting officer of the Gunung Selatan polling station in Depok, West Java, told jaring.id during an interview on Tuesday, Dec. 8.
According to Farid, visiting COVID-19 patients at home or in the hospital, increases the risk of infecting fellow voting officers with the coronavirus, considering the high infectability of the virus itself.
“Furthermore, the voting officers are no professional medical workers who have already been trained to use the personal protection equipment. This further increases their risks of not using these equipment properly, lessening the efficiency of the equipment. The risks of visiting these voters at home are simply bigger than the benefits,” Farid said.
Heri Darmawan, the head of the district-level voting committee in the Sukmajaya district in Depok also expressed similar concerns. Heri said that the 535 voting officers working in the district were also anxious about their safety and rightly so: data from the Depok chapter of the COVID-19 information and coordination center revealed that the Sukmajaya district alone had a total of 400 COVID-19 cases out of Depok city’s 2,435 active cases as per Dec. 7.
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“They [the voting officers] know that Depok is quite a dangerous place,” Heri said during an interview on Tuesday, Dec. 8.
Heri went further to say that the voting officers never really simulated how they could help these COVID-19 patients cast the latter’s votes safely in isolation. Even the General Elections Commission (KPU) has not issued detailed regulations on how to cast the votes of the COVID-19 patients during the regional elections, besides simply calling on the voting officers who will visit these patients at home or in the hospital to wear complete personal protection equipment.
The voting officers will cast the patients’ vote in an outdoors setting, with self-isolation patients wearing face masks and hand gloves. Meanwhile, the voting officers will use plastic bags to carry the ballots around.
“We also encourage the officers to build an agreement with the supervisors and witnesses regarding safe ways to serve voters in self-isolation,” he said.
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Despites the measures which have already been taken, the voting process still entails the risk of spreading the virus through the ballot papers which have been used by the COVID-19-infected voters. We are yet to have a regulation which requires the separation of ballot papers which have already been used by the patients with the unused ballot papers.
Heri said he hoped that voters currently undergoing self-isolation use the supplementary C form when casting their votes on the ballot paper. By doing that, these patients can actually be represented by a trusted family member or inner circle to cast their votes.
“The safest way to do this is by allowing the patients’ inner circle members to cast the former’s votes for them. We hope that the witnesses and supervisors will consent to this strategy,” he explained.
The KPU Regulation No. 6/2020 on regional elections during COVID-19’s article 73 regulates how self-isolated voters can still cast their votes. The regulation specifically stipulates that the local poll administrators (KPPS) are also allowed to come and visit these patients after securing the approval of local witnesses and/or members of the local election commission chapters and/or voting booth supervisors.
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Depok is one of the six regions in West Java which belongs to the COVID-19 red zone. On Dec. 8, the infection rates in the city reached 11,813 individuals. The Depok health agency head Novarita said she had already coordinated with the Depok chapter of the KPU to obtain data about voters in self-isolation and the data revealed that out of the total infection number, there were 1,899 voters who conducted voluntary home isolation, 432 patients who were treated in the hospital while 84 voters who were isolated in isolation centers. Nova said that the voting officers needed not to worry because the local health agency had already equipped them with personal protection equipment.
“[The agency staff members] have already educated the voting officers on how to cast the patients’ votes safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also distributing [personal protection equipment] such as hazmat suits, hand gloves, face masks as well as face shield. [With all the equipments], it is relatively safe for the voting officers to meet the COVID-19-positive patients,” Nova said during an interview on Thursday, Dec. 8.
She said that first and foremost, for safety’s sake, the voting officers did not have to enter the patients’ homes, as the voting process would be conducted outdoors only. Soon after the voting officers already served the voters, the voting officers would be disinfected. When the voting process takes place in the hospital, only patients who have recovered slightly from the COVID-19 infection will be allowed to cast their votes.
Nova specifically advised the polling officers not to visit voters who were treated in the intensive care unit (ICU) rooms. The Depok health agency would require medical workers to accompany the KPPS voting officers while they were in the hospital in a bid to make sure that everyone was safe during the voting process. Furthermore, the voting officers will not be allowed to take off their personal protection gears.
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Unfortunately, it is very likely that the voting officers will not be able to wear the hazmat suits when they visit these voters. The head of the Depok chapter of the Elections Supervisory Body (Bawaslu), Luli Barliani, said that the Depok chapter of the Bawaslu only had 100 hazmat suits to be worn by officers across 4,015 polling stations in Depok. Luli then called on the election supervisors to pay attention to the entire remote voting process, to ensure that the officers would be shielded from coronavirus infections.
“Currently, we’re short on hazmat suits, but we will try to procure more of those,” Luli told jaring.id on Dec. 8.
Regardless, Luli still advised that the voting officers still served the voters in self-isolation to stay true to the agreement among the KPU, Bawaslu and the government.
Nova, meanwhile, said she hoped the KPU could soon submit a list of voters with COVID-19 per polling station, to help the Bawaslu prepare their job in supervising the polling stations.
Separately contacted, Muhammad Mutaqqin, a member of the Surakarta chapter of the Bawaslu in Central Java, said that the city did not have any hazmat suits at all for the voting officers about to visit COVID-19-infected at home or in the hospital. Muhammad said it was very likely for the polling officers to simply wear face masks, hand gloves as well as face shields while they were out and about accompanying the KPPS officers.
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“We maintain our distance, we also don’t intend to enter the isolation centers, especially those located in the hospitals because they won’t allow us to go in anyways,” Muhammad told jaring.id.
At the same time, the number of COVID-19-positive patients who self-isolate in Solo has reached 986, while the patients under treatment are 195 people. Muhammad said that it was mandatory for all the patients who self-isolated to be served by polling officers to cast their votes as long as there was still time available.
On a national level, the Indonesian KPU member Dewa Kade Wiarsa Raka Sandi said that the home visit system was implemented as part of the KPU’s commitment to protect the voting rights of COVID-19 patients. The KPPS officers would visit the COVID-19-infected voters with the witnesses and supervisors at least an hour before the voting process ended. The patients would be served as long as they had already been included in the COVID-19 task force list in their own respective regions.
“Furthermore, before the voting process begins, the voting officers have already been scheduled to coordinate closely with the COVID-19 task force, the health agency and so on,” Raka said during a talk show organized by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) titled Investigating the Availability of Personal Protection Equipment for Voting Officers during the Regional Elections, on Friday, Dec. 4.
Raka said that the KPU would not push the polling officers to cast the votes of the COVID-19 patients should they did not have enough health safety to do so. He went on further to say that the home visits would only happen under the seal of approval of both witnesses and voting officers.
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University of Indonesia (UI) epidemiologist Pandu Riono said that the home visit system could be a highly risky procedure for both the voting officers and patients alike. Pandu advised it was better for everyone involved if the COVID-19 patients in the hospitals or their homes did not cast their votes during the elections.
“No need to implement the home visit idea,” he told jaring.id.
Association for the Elections and Democracy board of advisors member Titi Anggraini stated that the KPU was advised not to trivialize the risks associated with the home visit mechanism when it could not even guarantee the safety of the voting process. For example, the ballot papers could possibly be a medium of the virus’ transmission during the vote-counting process.
“We don’t want to have voting officers who don’t even protect themselves in the best way possible while helping the COVID-19 patients cast their votes. When the officers aren’t even equipped with personal protection equipment, this further increases the risks of spreading the coronavirus,” Titi said.
She encouraged the supervisors not to recommend involving voters who were COVID-19-positive when the officers did not even have complete personal protection equipment and when they were not trained to handle voters who had the coronavirus. Titi said that attempting to fulfill the voting rights of the COVID-19 patients reflected the election organizers’ good intentions, yet they needed to do it under meticulous preparations. (Debora Sinambela)