Election Watch

Voters roll problem – all political parties are guilty

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For once not a single opposition party in parliament can put the blame for the mess around addresses of voters on the voters roll on the ANC government alone.

The only honourable thing by each and every party represented in parliament can do, is to say “mea culpa,” – I’m also guilty – to accept co-responsibility and join hands with one another to find a solution. Fact is, they let the country down badly in 2003 with changes to the Electoral Act not properly thought through.

It has now added to the problems of the crucial upcoming municipal elections at a time of high levels of political volatility with serious threats to social stability.

An almost even more unforgiveable dereliction of duty – in this instance probably more on the side of government and responsible state institutions – is that the basic technology to overcome the problem of verifiable addresses for each voter has been available to the state since 1994.

Parliament in 2003 amended the Electoral Act to stipulate that the voters roll, to be made available to political parties and candidates involved in all elections, in terms of Section 16(3) of the Act, should include such verifiable addresses for registered voters.

This stipulation is especially critical to ensure the integrity of election results in the case op municipal elections based on clearly demarcated wards. Without such a stipulation the possibility to manipulate the voters roll by registering voters in wards where they do not live, is very real.

Then came Tlokwe

A full twelve years after the Act was amended, this weakness was exposed, not by any of the political parties, but by independent candidates in a series of by-elections in the North West municipality of Tlokwe.

They challenged the viability of by-elections based on exactly that weakness, that the voters rolls for the contested wards were loaded with the names of voters in reality living outside those wards.

They won their case in the Electoral Court (EC) in February and the elections were postponed.

Instead of immediately addressing the problem, on the eve of the country-wide municipal elections, scheduled for 3 August, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) found it necessary to approach the Constitutional Court (CC) with an urgent application for leave to appeal the EC’s decision. Should it denied leave to appeal, it is seeking direct access to the court to request it 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.

   (At the time of publication the IEC was still arguing its case before the CC and it was not clear when judgement could be expected to be delivered.)

The scope and magnitude of the problem was highlighted recently by the Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs, Andries Nel, when he told a parliamentary joint committee that it would not be possible for the IEC or government to have addresses for all 26.2 million registered voters within two months, the cut-off time for the voters roll for a 3 August election.

Especially due to the proliferation of informal settlements in the country two-thirds of the voters did not have addresses. Director general in the department, Vusi Madonsela, at the same occasion said they had taken measures to address the situation after the court case by independent candidates in Tlokwe..

It is almost unthinkable that the members of political parties in parliament, when passing the amendments to the Act in 2003, were not aware and foresaw the problem posed by the multitude of informal settlements in the country. The Act also does not contain a definition of a “verifiable address.”

Twelve years, three general elections, two nation-wide municipal elections and multiple municipal by-elections later, a solution is still not in place and no political party has raised the problem.

A further implication of this situation is that all of those elections have violated a basic prescription of the Electoral Act.

Solution

Madonsela also said they had taken measures to address the situation after the court case by independent candidates in Tlokwe,

The Department of Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs has roped in Statistics South Africa and the South African Post Office (Sapo) to find a solution to the problem of people living in informal settlements, rural areas and backyard dwellers with no addresses.

In Tlokwe they assigned a unique number, based on geographic coordinates, to every dwelling unit in the area, which would be allocated to people with no physical address.

The basic information technology to use geographic coordinates for such a solution was acquired by the state as far back as 1994 – at that stage primarily for the demarcation of voting districts. This happened in a transaction at the time facilitated by, amongst others, Dr F Van Zyl Slabbert.

Why the use of this technology did not at least start in 2003 to overcome this problem is a mystery. To implement and complete a programme to achieve compliance with the Act now, less than two months before the election, has become an impossibility.

by Piet Coetzer

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