From October 30, 2020 to November 5, the United States International Center for Electoral Support (USICES) hosted African election official from 13 countries to observe the conduct of the U.S. general elections. This program was organized under the auspices of the USICES Election Integrity Support Program to promote election integrity in African. Observers were picked from Nigeria, Liberia, Malawi, Kenya, Comoros, Uganda, South Sudan, Botswana, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tunisia, and Gambia and composed of Chairpersons, Commissioners, and directors of election management bodies as well as Senators and Members of Parliament.
For days, observers held meetings with different election stakeholders in the United States, including state and local election officials, the Biden and Trump campaign officials and other stakeholders to get more insights on the preparedness ahead of the November 3 elections. These briefing sessions provided observers the opportunity to understand the decentralized and independent electoral architecture of the United States, operational and health guidelines as well as increased access to electoral processes in response to the health challenges posed by COVID.
Election administration and officials worldwide face unprecedented challenges to conduct constitutionally mandated elections as they grapple with the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus and restrictions imposed by their governments. Election officials are not only forced in most cases to work from home, stretch their operation budgets, but are also concerned about the safety of voters, candidates, and other stakeholders they work with to ensure credible and transparent elections. At least 73 countries worldwide and territories had postponed their elections due to COVID-19. This program thus provided observers with insights on guidelines, reforms, and accommodations made by election officials in the United States to ensure elections are conducted amidst COVID while ensuring health safety of all voters, poll workers, and election officials themselves.
On Election Day, observers visited over 63 polling locations in Washington DC and Maryland to observe the opening of the polls at 7am, voting operations, and the closing of the polls. They had the opportunity to observe the conduct of not only voting operations and the use of electronic voting and vote recording machines but also the implementation of COVID guidelines in the various polling locations visited. Observers were briefed about the unprecedented use of vote by mail by U.S. voters during the election and the different legal challenges election officials face as a result of increased access to voting by mail.
At the closure of the program, observers expressed their satisfaction with the conduct of election and highlighted the uniqueness of the American electoral architecture and policies to enhance the voter experience and access for voters with disabilities. They also positively noted the installation of ballot drop boxes before Election Day and in polling locations on Election Day and the strict respect of COVID guidelines in all polling locations visited. While their experience served as a learning process, observers indicated they would replicate some of the lessons that would be contextually relevant to Africa.