Britain has so far avoided imposing the most extreme measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. Unlike Italy, for example, it is not under lockdown. Schools and universities remain open. Public transit is still running (albeit with an enhanced cleaning regimen).
And for now, officially at least, the country’s upcoming local elections—including London’s mayoral contest—are still scheduled to go ahead on May 7. Though possibly not for much longer: The United Kingdom’s Electoral Commission has recommended that the elections be postponed until the fall, citing concerns about voters’ ability to participate safely. Although postal voting is an option in Britain, the commission warned that increased dependence on casting ballots that way “would create further and additional pressures and risks in other parts of the system.” Added to the commission’s worries is the risk that voters may not be able to fully consider all candidates and parties as a result of being under quarantine or self-isolation.
Democracy will no doubt be tested by this viral outbreak. In some places where everyday life has virtually come to a standstill, it already has been. But perhaps none of these tests is more literal or more immediate than the postponement of a scheduled election, calling into question what countries should do to ensure that democratic processes continue as normal during moments of such uncertainty. How much responsibility are governments willing to take if upholding these processes means further exposing people to infection?