The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has come under fire for unprecedented irregularities in the 2019 national elections process.
On Wednesday, South Africans headed to the polls to elect the country’s sixth democratic administration, but the process has been mired by complaints of logistical hiccups and irregular voting.
As vote numbers streamed in, it emerged that at least four people had been arrested for double voting in KwaZulu-Natal. During a Thursday afternoon briefing, the IEC confirmed the four arrests, as media reports spread that 16 more had been arrested in the province for double voting.
Other complaints related to the indelible ink — used to prevent people from voting more than once — not working and a shortage of ballot papers at voting stations.
The IEC had its budget slashed by R300-million for this election, and was run by a relatively new team. This is the first national election presided over by IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini.
The IEC announced on Thursday that it would be conducting an audit of votes cast at a sample of voting stations to establish whether double voting did, in fact, occur.
Chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said the audit would cover a statistically representative sample of stations, and those where complaints of double voting were received.
“The purpose of the audit is only to check the extent of the phenomenon. The commission at the moment can’t tell you [that] the extent was this or the other. That has to be determined through the scientific process,” Mamabolo said at a media briefing on Thursday.
Former commission vice-chairperson Terry Tselane told the Mail & Guardian that this sort of auditing process was unprecedented. He lambasted the IEC’s failure to attend to logistical issues more decisively.
He explained that the commission’s publicising of section 24 (VEC4) forms, which allow voters to cast their ballots at voting stations where they had not registered, was “a vulnerability for the organisation”. This, he said, caused a “ripple effect” on the commission’s logistical capacity.
Democratic Alliance federal chairperson James Selfe blamed the logistical hiccups on inadequate training of electoral staff, shortcuts and ignorance of protocol. He said measures meant to protect the vote were at the heart of the problems.
Tselane criticised the commission for failing to respond to complaints transparently: “If they attended to it in such a way so as to give confidence to people … but at the moment there is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of people thinking that maybe they are being evasive about responding to questions,” he said.
But the commission rebuffed criticism relating to a supposed lack of transparency on its part.
IEC commissioner Mosotho Moepya emphasised that the commission had “nothing to hide” as he answered questions about the alleged arrests of double voters.
“There is no cover-up. There is not going to be,” he said at the media briefing.
IEC commissioner Janet Love said the commission was “confident” that its system was strong and would detect any other irregularities: “It will throw out the exceptions so that we can investigate them … and we are confident that that creates a situation where our results and our elections have integrity. But we recognise that there are concerns.”
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe applauded the IEC’s willingness to respond to complaints relating to the election process. “The outcomes of these elections must be credible; they must be embraced by everyone,” he said.
“So the fact that the IEC has acted in the manner that it has, including speaking to the arrests, that alone shows a willingness on their part to be able to attend to these issues.”