As the lowest voter turnout ever in the country’s democracy loomed, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) said on Monday night that having a shorter period than usual in which to prepare for the local government elections had resulted in some voters not being able to cast their ballots.
In a late evening media briefing, which started about an hour before polls were due to close at 9pm, the IEC said just over eight million out of more than 26.2-million registered voters had voted, translating to a preliminary turnout of about 30.5%.
IEC commissioner Granville Abrahams conceded that there had been “challenges” with new voter management devices that the commission piloted in these elections. This resulted in about 67 000 voters, whose details had not been uploaded into the electoral system, being turned away.
The IEC had, however, ensured that these voters, who had submitted their particulars during the registration weekend in September, would still be allowed to cast their ballots, Abrahams said.
He was responding to a question about numerous public complaints lodged at polling stations by prospective voters who were turned away as their names did not appear on the voters’ roll, despite having registered in September.
“We had problems … of uploading them onto the live file, but we have ascertained … that, as at 5pm [on Monday 1 November] 35 000 of those voters had voted already, which leaves us with a residual of 32 000 voters. Of those 32 000, only 6 000 were scanned on these [voter management] devices and they were not issued with their ballots,” Abrahams said.
“To ensure that these voters do not miss out, we have sent out an SMS, where we have contact details for these voters, apologising and asking them to please return to the voting station to cast their vote.”
IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini defended the devices, saying the new technology was not the problem, but rather the shorter-than-usual time the commission had to organise the elections.
“The truncated timeframe from 86 days to 42 days required that this institution should perform probably what is close to a miracle. And this is why we are where we are,” Mashinini said.
Earlier, the IEC said it expected that results would start trickling in after midnight on Monday.
This year’s vote seems set to buck the trend of a steady uptick in voter turnout at previous local government elections, where turnout had risen from 48.07% of 18.4-million registered voters in 2000, to 58% of 26.3-million in 2016.
Mashinini said the IEC would await various scientific surveys, including one commissioned with the Human Sciences Research Council, before being able to state the reasons behind the low turnout.