Critical components for successful local government polls
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OPINION: The criticism levelled against the IEC hampers how the institution is viewed, and further leaves it with the rather difficult task of restoring voter confidence and public trust in the midst of the manifestation of corruption in government institutions across the country, writes Lulu White.
In my view, there are three critical components that the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has to ensure that it delivers successful elections – introduction of special voting in municipal elections, the printing and availing of the voters roll to political parties and independent candidates, and the printing of the ballot papers.
It is these elements that make me a little nervous about the time frame of less than 40 days that the IEC has to deliver the 2021 local government elections. The recent court order and subsequent judgment give certainty and allow the IEC to work full steam ahead to deliver the next elections on November 1.
Preparation of the voters roll
While the IEC might have experienced technical glitches in delivering registration weekend, elections are a different kettle of fish! For one thing, while the elections will see the introduction for the first time of the new voter management device, voting is still pen and paper based.
Let us first look at some of the numbers to understand the challenge facing the IEC.
There are about 23 million registered voters on the voters roll who are eligible to vote, and the requirement is for the voters roll to be printed into 23 151 segments, and in some instances into streams for election day. Will the IEC be able to deliver the voters roll?
There are 23 151 voting stations that need to be contracted. Lease agreements should already be in place, as they would have been signed when the lease agreements for registration weekend were signed. While the majority of these are permanent structures, for example schools, churches, halls, there are some temporary structures with tents that need to be set up.
In addition to all these factors, the IEC is expected to have recruited and trained at least 200 000 electoral staff members. At least 40% of these are presiding officers, deputy presiding officers and voters roll officers who would have been part of the voter registration weekend and should already be in place.
Candidate nomination and printing of ballots
According to reports, the previous candidate nomination process yielded more than 290 political parties and 910 independent candidates, with a total of 78 000 candidates. With candidate nomination having closed this week, these figures are likely to increase as a result of the keen interest many people have in these elections.
As soon as candidate nominations are concluded, the printing of ballot papers would need to be completed. The complexity of the required ballot is an added challenge that needs to be addressed by the IEC, because while voters only see one election on voting day, the IEC will technically be conducting 4 725 elections across the country, with voters receiving 2 or 3 ballot papers depending on where they vote. This leaves the IEC with fewer than 40 days to ensure that there are ballot papers are in place for November 1.
This past registration weekend has allowed the IEC to finalise its numbers to ensure that it has enough materials on voting day. The IEC has been afforded a unique opportunity to fine-tune some of its systems and deal with any challenges that may arise on election day.
Voter Confidence and Perception
According to the recent Afrobarometer 2021 survey, in South Africa, public trust in the IEC, as in nearly all other institutions, has declined from its peak of 69% in 2011, to 57%. This means that nearly three out of five people have lost faith in the IEC and fear that these elections may not be free and fair.
This has been further exacerbated by the IEC’s decision to amend the election timetable, which inadvertently led to the reopening of candidate nominations as a direct cause of the amendment. The criticism levelled against the IEC hampers how the institution is viewed, and further leaves it with the rather difficult task of restoring voter confidence and public trust in the midst of the manifestation of corruption in government institutions across the country.
Notwithstanding all these challenges, I have complete faith in the men and women who work for the IEC and their dedication, against all odds, to deliver on their mandate of a free and fair election. Granted, there will be challenges.
However, it is my view that given the commitment, dedication and hard work of the IEC and its staff, these challenges will be addressed in a transparent, fair and credible manner. With that said, yes, I believe the IEC is ready to deliver the municipal elections.
* Lulu White is the chief executive of Elections Management and Consulting Agency of Africa, and Thought Leader on Elections Democracy and Governance in Africa.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.