Johannesburg – The Independent Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) was, until 2003, not required to keep addresses of voters, the Constitutional Court heard on Monday.
“We accept that the IEC is obliged to ensure voters fall within the districts they are registered, the commission has always fulfilled that duty. Was the IEC obliged to keep record of addresses? That is where lies the difference between the parties,” said Wim Trengrove SC, for the IEC.
“The IEC was not required by law to verify addresses until 2003, that time there were 18 million voters on the roll. The essence of this case is whether the IEC should go back and look for the addresses of the 18 million voters.”
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng asked Trengrove what would have happened if the statutory duty was not implemented in 2003.
“I ask because the section requires political parties to have access to voters’ roll with addresses. What if that was not the case then? What would have been the case now?” asked Mogoeng.
Trengrove said the IEC had generally done its duty, although it was not a rule then.
“There is a prospective duty imposed on the IEC as a result of the judgement in November 2015. There is, however, no legal obligation for IEC to keep addresses on record or go back and update addresses of 18 million voters. The mere fact that there are names on the roll without addresses, does not imply that the registration were irregular.”
The court is hearing the IEC’s urgent application for leave to appeal an Electoral Court decision compelling the commission to furnish political parties with addresses of all registered voters on the voters’ roll.
The protracted case is back in the highest court in the land after an Electoral Court ruling in February, which further sent the disputed Tlokwe by-elections into disarray. Six independent candidates lodged an urgent interdict with the Electoral Court, arguing that the IEC failed to provide them with a voter’s roll with addresses for the Tlokwe by-elections.
The Electoral Court ruled on the eve of the by-elections in February, instructing the IEC to postpone the Tlokwe elections by six weeks and furnish the parties with a voters’ roll complete with addresses. The independent candidates maintained that the IEC failed to comply with an earlier Constitutional Court ruling in November 2015, in which the Tlokwe by-election results held in 2013, were set aside.
The commission argues that the Electoral Court’s interpretation of last year’s judgment was wrong, and that it is only obliged to furnish voters’ addresses which it has in its possession. If the Electoral Court ruling stands, at least 12 million voters would have to be removed from the voters’ roll because of lack of formal addresses, says the IEC.
The commission, which is racing against time as the August 3 date for the 2016 local government elections approaches, is seeking direct access to the court should it be denied leave to appeal. Through the direct access, the IEC requests the court to “furnish a just and equitable remedy” that exonerates it from obtaining addresses of all registered voters for this year’s elections and the 2019 national and provincial elections.
The respondents in the case are the independents candidates, the ANC, the ministry of cooperative governance (Cogta), the Democratic Alliance, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the National House of Traditional Leaders. The ANC, the Cogta ministry and the NHTL support the relief sought by the IEC, while the DA and the IFP are opposing the application.
Listening to the proceedings in court were IEC chairman Glen Mashinini, Home Affairs Minister Melusi Gigaba, Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance Obed Bapela and representatives from the ANC, the DA and the IFP.
African News Agency