A woman studies the ballot paper before making her mark to cast her vote in local municipality elections, in a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, Wednesday, May 18, 2011. Some 23 million voters were registered at 20,000 polling stations across this country, and the results are likely to have an impact on national politics. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

Johannesburg - With 25.3 million voters, 22 263 voting stations, 212 000 staff members and just one day of voting, election day is naturally a logistical nightmare.

Chief electoral officer at the Independent Electoral Commission, Mosotho Moepya, however, compares it to writing an exam.

Either you’ve done your preparations and you walk into the exam room knowing you are going to ace the test – or you are worried about the parts you forgot to revise.

By the looks of things, Moepya is getting an A.

Speaking to The Sunday Independent just four days before elections, Moepya said it’s all systems go.

“We have done everything we needed to do. All that needs to be done between today (Saturday) and Wednesday is moving the people and the materials into voting stations. We have been running ahead of the game in every area we prepared,” he said.

The material for special votes were to be released on Saturday afternoon and for ordinary voting stations would be delivered tomorrow.

Already, the IEC has started recovering the material from the elections overseas which they are reconciling with the political parties present.

“We have recruited just under 220 000 people. As we speak, we know who is going to which station and what the capacity is for the station.

“We know which ballot papers have been printed and specifically identified for a specific station. There is nothing we are worried about.”

Moepya has been with the electoral commission for just under 16 years and has seen several elections delivered successfully.

This time around though, it is the first time he finds himself at the helm as chief electoral officer.

“To say the organising of the elections is easy would not be correct – it is a very complex undertaking,” says Moepya.

Preparations for May 7 started in earnest last April, explains Moepya.

At that time the IEC looked at how the country is delimited and how well-defined the administrative boundaries are. At one stage there were over 350 individual project plans from the demarcated boundaries to the declaration of the results.

Eventually the project plans merged and became a single programme, managed at national level.

“In South Africa the challenge in preparing for an election is no longer a technical one, but it’s one of quality and transparency and being the best we can be,” he adds.

South Africa’s fifth democratic elections have been very interesting and unique, says Moepya.

“The level of competition has been very high from the beginning. Every detail has been open to our stakeholders, who have been critical and supportive,” he says.

The IEC has seen quite a number of large unprecedented demands. One of these is social media – a challenge that Moepya admits was not going to be small. “Young people ask questions but they don’t go to a church hall for voter education. You find them in the most peculiar places,” he says.

The commission experimented in the early phases of the election preparations. Today however it has a presence on Twitter and Facebook and smartphone applications which places details of where to vote at the fingertips of the voters.

“It never had to be a consideration in the last elections”, he says.

The advent of social media within the election spectrum has also resulted in transparency.

“You can now sit in the comfort of your home and call up a result slip from a voting station. It shows that the electoral commission has in no way embellished the result of the election. You do not have to be in the result centre to know what is happening. It is a game changer.”

The smartphone apps are updated as the result flow in.

Another game changer, says Moepya, is the IEC’s move to be as inclusive as possible in this year’s election.

Moepya admits that there was a challenge to reach citizens outside the country.

This year, however, with the help of social media, it has improved.

“The turn out by voters abroad has increased. In the last election there were less than 10 000 people. Now I’m almost certain it surpasses that. There is every indication that the numbers have increased.”

The challenge now is to improve the communication with citizens abroad.

Moepya said although he was not authorised to deal with the merits of the case against IEC chairperson Pansy Tlakula, who is fighting her removal by several political parties in the Electoral Court, it was a good thing that the case was postponed and the focus could be on the work that needs to be done.

“I want to say to South Africa, no one election is the same as the others. This is a very special election. It has required us to pay special attention to detail. I am completely satisfied that the work we have put in will make South Africa proud. I look forward to May 7,” said Moepya.

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Sunday Independent