How the world goes to the polls

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1994 ballot box INLSA A 1994 ballot boxes on show now at the IEC results ops centre in Pretoria. Photo: Louis Flanagan

Cape Town - Elections are on the brain. Whether it’s ours, Afghanistan’s landmark election last month, or India’s ongoing month-long process, voting is a feat of logistics.

But not every election is the same. Forget about politics: we can’t even mark our ballots the same way.

South Africa’s process is pretty straightforward: voters go to their designated polling station, queue up, mark their vote, and get their thumb inked. The votes are then sorted and counted twice before results are announced.

“Everyone votes in person,” Independent Electoral Commission spokeswoman Kate Bapela said.

“Our democracy is young; there’s still an issue of trust and credibility. We want there to be a paper trail that we can go back to, to show that the election was fair.”

In the US, the process varies not only from state to state, but city to city. Most states require voters to go to a polling station in a school or community building. But instead of paper ballots, stations might use a lever system, punch cards, scan cards, or touchscreens.

Overseas voters can cast an absentee ballot that must be postmarked by election day. Two states vote entirely by post.

In the UK anyone can vote by post or in a polling station, although a mailed ballot must reach the polling station by election day.

Once registered, all voters need is their name and address to verify their identities. Like South Africa, the paper ballots are counted by hand multiple times.

The UK also allows registered voters to vote by proxy if they are abroad or otherwise unable to come to a polling station. The proxy can be any eligible voter, but you have to provide proof that you need one.

Estonia is the only country in the world to use internet voting on a wide scale.

I-voting requires a computer with stable internet connection and the voter’s identity can be verified through an ID card, a digital ID, or a mobile ID SIM card. All I-votes are cast in advance.

Whether you vote at a polling station or in advance depends on if you’re able to vote in your registered district.

All voters in Brazil vote electronically at a polling station.

The machines work like ATMs: voters enter an ID number which brings up a list of candidates with their photos. Voters select the number of their chosen candidate, press a green button to confirm, and receive a receipt to say they’ve voted.

Voting in Brazil is compulsory for citizens aged 18 to 70.

South Africa’s procedure may not be as glamorous as voting on a computer, but there is time for the democracy to grow.

“Maybe in time when South Africans are more comfortable with technology,” Bapela said.

“It’s something that’s under discussion.”

simone.alicea@inl.[email protected]

Cape Times



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