Electoral officials illness and death: Extreme workloads and cardiovascular disease

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UGM researcher reveals survey results on the cause of deaths of 440 election workers in the KPU Office, Tuesday (25/06/2019). (photo: IO/Dani)

IO, Jakarta – According to the Elections Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum – “KPU”), the number of sick and deceased electoral officials involved in the 2019 Elections as of 4 May 2019 is, respectively, 3,788 illnesses and 440 fatalities. In consideration of the statistics, Gadjah Mada University (Universitas Gadjah Mada – “UGM”), with the cooperation of the Social and Political Sciences Faculty, Faculty of Medicine, Public Health and Nursing Faculty, Faculty of Psychology, and the Faculty of Geography, has undertaken a cross-discipline study to identify the risk factors that might result in illness or even death in the ranks of electoral officials, through a pilot program in Yogyakarta.

UGM Social and Political Sciences researcher Dr. Abdul Gaffar Karim has stated that normal elections should never result in severe illness – not to mention the death of officials. Therefore, this occurrence should be considered as “extraordinary”. The fact is that even though such extraordinary occurrences are unplanned, they can actually be anticipated. The study in question is a “mixed-method” one, relying on a mixture of quantitative surveys and qualitative descriptions. A survey was performed using a questionnaire in all regencies and municipalities of the Special Region of Yogyakarta, with samples taken from 400 Voting Booths (Tempat Pemungutan Suara – “TPS”), out of a total of 11,781 TPS.

The data studied included, among others, the nature of the workload, a medical history extending over the previous year, health troubles within the past 6 months, habits (sports, smoking, supplement and coffee consumption), perception of pressures and threats, and the anxiety experienced during duty relating to the elections. Research into cases involving deceased electoral officers was performed through “verbal autopsies”, i.e., interviewing family members of the deceased officials. A verbal autopsy was carried out on 10 of the 12 cases of electoral official deaths in Yogyakarta. The verbal autopsy was not performed with the family of one official who had committed suicide, while the family of another deceased official declined to be interviewed.

The results of the verbal autopsy were analyzed by a panel of experts (three forensic specialists) to determine possible causes of death. All of the deceased officials studied were male, 46-67 years of age; 80% had a history of cardiovascular illness, and 90% were allegedly steady smokers. All of the deaths reported were “natural”; i.e., there are no indications of violence or foul play. “There are also pressures that exacerbated their degraded physical condition, and this was a triggering factor for cardiovascular illness. But again, we wish to stress that these are natural causes,” Abdul Gaffar Karim declared.

Meanwhile, according to the findings of the survey, another triggering cause of death was the overly heavy workload of electoral officials: they were on duty for 20-22 hours on or immediately before Election day, i.e., taking 7.5-11 hours to prepare TPS and 8-48 hours to prepare and distribute voting invitations. 30% of the TPS officials in Yogyakarta reported occurrences that obstructed the election. About 20% of these occurrences were related to complicated administration, voting process, and the competence of officials. “Of the total of 212 electoral officials in DIY, both those healthy and ill, 80% stated that the demands of their duties to people in the elections were intense. 83% of these 212 electoral officials had deep involvement in this work. Consequently, they suffered severe exhaustion on duty. This is shown by the fact that 74% of the officials state that they were ‘medium’ to ‘extremely’ exhausted,” he stated at the KPU Media Center on Tuesday (25/06/2019).

Finally, the study recommends that health checks, both physical and mental, should be thoroughly performed when recruiting officials. During the election preparation period, the KPU is expected to provide more optimal training for officials. Furthermore, crisis management in the Indonesian election needs to be strengthened. Electoral organizers can begin implementing these suggestions in the upcoming 2020 Simultaneous Regional Elections. (D. Ramdani)