Images of dumped ballot papers found in a field in Pretoria have caused a minor outrage, but are likely only to be an issue if a recount is need.
Ballot papers found dumped in black bin bags in a field in Lynnwood Ridge, Pretoria were probably left behind by Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) staff, and not a result of malicious intent, said Democratic Alliance (DA) party agent Jordan Griffiths on Thursday.
But the IEC has directed an immediate investigation into the matter and others like it.
The station, called “Cedar and Beech street” after the street corner it is located on, was housed in an IEC tent.
IEC chief executive Mosotho Moepya and his deputy Sy Mamabolo told the Mail & Guardian that ballots were usually tallied at a voting station and the results slip signed off by party agents before being sent for final tallying and auditing at a local counting centre. The leftover ballots are meant to be stored in a “secure room” at the voting station or somewhere nearby, said Moepya.
There was no secure room on site at the Lynnwood station as it was a tent and IEC staff should have taken the papers with them when they left.
But this was predominantly in case there were objections and a recount was needed, not for counting purposes, which should have been done already.
Griffiths, a policy and security risk consultant and a DA young leader and activist, confirmed the ballots had been counted before being left behind, and that he was in possession of the numbers for the station.
“Out of 1 354 total national ballots cast there, 1 094 went to the DA provincially and 1 070 nationally,” he told the M&G.
He added that the ballots were taken out of the boxes to be counted and DA ballots put into black bin bags to enable faster counting. “It was the most efficient process at the time to keep the votes separate,” he said.
DA Gauteng North regional chairperson Solly Msimanga confirmed with the Mail & Guardian that Griffiths was a party agent for the DA in the area.
Four party agents were at the station, said Griffiths: two from the DA, including himself, and two from the ANC. All four signed off on the slip.
Circulating photos showing the dumped ballot papers caused an outcry on social media and among politicians on Thursday. The photos implied that the bags had been dumped at random in a field.
DA leader Helen Zille rushed to the IEC’s result centre upon hearing the news and called for an investigation.
Moepya earlier told the M&G: “I have directed that these matters be investigated by the police immediately.”
The DA in particular were initially alarmed about the dumped ballot papers as they were mostly for the party. The DA’s Mmusi Maimane said earlier: “We are bitterly disappointed that there was a breach. It questions the legitimacy of the electoral results in Gauteng.” Griffiths said he had sent a report on the matter to his party and was “waiting for the message to filter through”.
Zille later tweeted: “DA party agents at the count in the affected voting districts confirm that the ballots were counted. I accept their word for it. Audited.”
Griffiths suspected laziness or incompetence on the part of IEC staff rather than malicious intent.
“I don’t suspect any foul play to be honest because I was there most of the morning, up until 2 or 3am,” he said.
“What would be malicious [is] if suddenly those voting district numbers are not the numbers I signed off on.”
When the M&G checked at 9pm, the results for that particular station had not yet come through to the IEC national results operations centre in Pretoria.
A number of the votes found were special votes, sparking concerns that these don’t have the same oversight as regular votes.
Moepya insisted however that the systems were watertight, and difficult to defraud. Special voters were recorded on a list for each voting station, and divided up among staff who had to account for the ballot papers taken to voters requiring home visits and rule their names off on a list. Party agents were also allowed to accompany and observe special votes taken at home visits.