Frustrated IEC needs R300m to collect missing addresses for voter registration

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) will need at least R300‑million and access to municipalities’ debtors’ books and databases to capture the addresses of people on the voters’ roll before the Constitutional Court deadline of June next year.

This month, the IEC started approaching councils for the residential addresses of voters, after only managing to reduce the number of addresses missing from the voters’ roll by 1% in the space of six months, the Mail & Guardian has learned.

The snail’s pace at which the addresses are being collected has been revealed in the commission’s latest submission to the Constitutional Court on its bid to correct defects in the voters’ roll.

After an initial voter registration drive that dropped the number of incomplete addresses by more than 30% by December last year, the commission only managed a further reduction of 1% in the following six months.

“The electoral commission recognises that … it has since then made minimal further progress. This is, in the main, because no general registration weekend has taken place in the six-month period leading up to the filing of the report,” the IEC said in its submission.

In 2016, the Electoral Court ordered the IEC to postpone by-elections in the North West town of Tlokwe after opposition parties successfully argued that the commission was compelled to provide the addresses of everyone on the voters’ roll, following allegations that the ANC had manipulated the roll.

The IEC took the decision on review to the Constitutional Court, questioning whether the lack of addresses served to invalidate the entire voters’ roll.

On June 16 2016, the court ordered the IEC to collect the addresses of everyone who appeared on the voters roll after December 2013, and directed it to provide progress reports every six months. By the end of May this year, little progress had been made.

“The percentage of registered voters without a (any) recorded address on the voters’ roll has been reduced to 11% from 13%. This means that there remain 2 909 294 registered voters without a (any) recorded address on the voters’ roll,” read the latest IEC report to the court.

The IEC said it will also “consider procuring commercial sources of address information linked to individuals”, but warned that a similar effort in the Tlokwe municipality in the North West last year had yielded some unusable information.

The IEC said the best way to capture all voters’ addresses before the June 2018 deadline would be voter registration weekends. However, this would cost an estimated R300‑million for every such weekend, including the opening and staffing of each of the 22 612 voting stations across the country.

“For that reason, general registration weekends normally only take place in the run-up to countrywide elections,” the IEC added.

Aside from the voter registration weekends, the IEC’s proposed alternative solution would see it miss the court’s June 30 2018 deadline.

The IEC confirmed that it has already written to the treasury asking for funds to conduct the registration drives and suggested to the court that it does not foresee how the deadline will be met without the money.

If the treasury agrees to fund the additional registration drives, the IEC would be able to use new voter registration technology, which would eliminate paper forms and see a migration to a digital registration system complete with a GPS system using Google Maps.

The old “zip-zip” machines used to scan forms and produce barcodes have been in use for 10 years and a tender to replace them is due to be advertised this month.

Densely populated informal settlements and rural areas have been the most problematic areas for capturing address details, the IEC said.

In its court submission, the IEC said it would be able to definitively say by December whether it will meet the deadline.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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