Election irregularities start trickling in

Ballot papers falling off a truck, errant ballot boxes and more reports of Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) material being tampered with are emerging ahead of the country’s fifth national election on Wednesday. 

The casting of special votes was concluded on Tuesday, amid reports that ballot boxes were stored on Monday night at an ANC party agent’s house in KwaThema in Springs on Johannesburg’s East Rand. 

The IEC officials on duty were removed and the ANC has replaced the party agent, Swazi Matlala.

Now new reports have emerged of two open ballot boxes inside a tent acting as a temporary voting station in Zonkizizwe, Katlehong, in the east of Johannesburg.

Cause for concern
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in the area, who laid a charge relating to the KwaThema incident, told the Mail & Guardian that Zonkizizwe was cause for concern. 

“When our party agent arrived this morning the boxes were open,” said EFF spokesperson for Ekurhuleni Julius Mdluli. He said several envelopes were found inside the box containing special votes. The M&G has seen pictures of the boxes. 

IEC head of communications Marco Granelli said the commission had not heard of the incident but would look into the matter.

Mdluli, who was an ANC member before joining the EFF at its launch in October 2013, said that the ANC party agent who stored ballot boxes in KwaThema had done so in previous elections. But the ANC in Gauteng rubbished the claims and the M&G could not verify the allegation. 

Back of a truck
Meanwhile, reports that ballot papers fell off a truck in the Western Cape on Sunday were a cause for concern for newcomers Agang SA, who said on Monday the incident added to a list of concerning events before election day. 

Trevor Davids, the commission’s Western Cape spokesperson, said on Sunday that an official had lost 10 ballot paper books on the N1 while transporting them to a voting station in preparation for elections. This had been reported immediately and the police had helped locate all of the books, according to Davids, and the official was fired. IEC chair Pansy Tlakula added her voice to the matter, telling voters not to be “alarmist”.

“We recovered all those ballot papers,” she said at the national results operations centre (ROC) in Pretoria yesterday. “The ballot papers have serial numbers so we are able to trace each ballot paper to its voting station. We report this matter to the party liaison committee for transparency.”

Trained officials
Training of temporary IEC officials has emerged as an issue, 20 years after our first democratic election.

The presiding officer who stored the material at a party agent’s house in KwaThema did so despite being in “clear contravention of the established protocol for the storage of voting materials”, the IEC said.

In a previous interview with the M&G, former IEC chair Brigalia Bam said well-trained election officers were the institution’s next challenge. Bam suggested that South Africa should follow the model of other countries where voting officers are trained and certified and called on for every election. 

“You can’t rely on finding new people every five years,” she said. “Neither can you tell people election laws and expect them to master it in two weeks. You have a reserve of people in other countries who are trained and have certificates and the country can call on them during an election.”

Criminal charges
The EFF has laid charges against the presiding officer in KwaThema, and she was arrested and subsequently released. “Ms Matlala will not be an agent at any voting station,” the ANC said, adding that she maintained “that she was unaware of the irregularity of this action”.

The IEC said a further investigation will be conducted “to establish whether charges should be brought against the election officials”.

Leader of the United Democratic Movement Bantu Holomisa, who has been a keen activist where the IEC is concerned, expected that reports of election irregularities would increase from election day.

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