As South Africans reflect on the election results, it’s also important to reflect on the critical role played by technology in ensuring accurate results and smooth operations for the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). Photo Timothy Bernard/African News Agency
As South Africans reflect on the election results, it’s also important to reflect on the critical role played by technology in ensuring accurate results and smooth operations for the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). Photo Timothy Bernard/African News Agency

How the Independent Electoral Commission used technology to manage the elections

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Nov 7, 2021

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AS SOUTH Africans reflect on the election results, it’s also important to reflect on the critical role played by technology in ensuring accurate results and smooth operations for the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). The technical support provided by Telkom to IEC has been paramount.

The IEC had a responsibility to capture data in high-density metropolitan areas, as well as remote rural areas which required improved technology services. Telkom provided the voice and data network backbone for the IEC to allow for the collation and reporting of votes across the country.

“The people of South Africa are dependent on our connectivity to make their votes count. It all boils down to the technologies we deploy to service the electorate and the IEC, regardless of where voting is taking place,” said managing executive of Converged Communications at Telkom-owned BCX, Prashil Gareeb.

“Telkom has been helping to bring democracy to the people since our first democratic elections in 1994. In that time, we have helped to facilitate six national elections and five municipal polls. We have come a long way over this time,” says Gareeb.

This means using a wide range of technologies – from legacy copper connections to 60 satellites, high-speed fibre lines and the latest in wi-fi tech. These included Telkom’s fixed copperline network, broadband wireless, Telkom’s fibre network, satellite communications and GSM technology.

In addition to this, Telkom has for the first time deployed the latest generation of W-LAN technology, WiFi 6, in support of the polls. In communicating

with media entities, Neo Phukubje, an executive for channel and business development at BCX Wireless, a subsidiary of Telkom, said that this matrix of capabilities guaranteed that results were tabulated reliably and data remained safe and secure.

Among the major innovations implemented for this year’s municipal elections was the introduction of new voter management devices that replaced the ageing fleet of “zip-zip” scanners used over the past 15 years.

The IEC took delivery of 40 000 new-generation devices, which significantly enhanced the speed, accuracy and integrity of the voter registration and participation process.

Election officials were trained to use the devices during the voter registration weekend on September 18 and 19.

The devices allowed for the instant electronic capture of voters’ registration details, including addresses and, where network coverage allowed, to help check that voters are being registered in the correct ward using GPS technology.

Their use went beyond voter registration, however. Crucially on election day, the devices provided access to a real-time voters roll, which allowed election officials to detect if any voter had already presented themselves at a voting station to vote. This took care of double voting risks.

In addition, the devices assisted the IEC with ballot paper tracking, managing electoral staff attendance registers, and other admin requirements.

The introduction of the new device had obvious implications in respect of the skills required for electoral staff.

Computer literacy was paramount to operating the device and assessing the level of competence of electoral staff. This required the recruitment of election staff with new skills and capabilities and opened the way for more young South Africans to gain experience with the IEC.

For this reason, the IEC also introduced e-Learning for the training of election officials. This assisted with reducing training costs, standardisation of training, regular assessments, improved record-keeping, easy to update training materials and more convenient learning.

In a related development, the IEC has also recently successfully launched an e-recruitment platform on its website. The platform allowed applicants to view IEC career opportunities, create a profile and upload their CV, apply for suitable jobs, and monitor their application status.

All these systems were enabled via a more accessible and responsive public IEC website.

Over recent years, technology has been used around the world for voter registration and voting and counting itself. These advances are something the Electoral Commission continues to track with a view to introducing some forms of electronic interaction soon.

Already, all candidate nominations and party registrations are done online, and the new Political Party Funding System, launched in April, is also an online facility.

The Electoral Commission has indicated that more tech interventions will be implemented in the next few years.

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IOL TECH

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