/ 2 November 2021

LGE 2021: Thousands turned away, but IEC says it is not to blame

November 01 2021 Local Government Elections 2021, Polling Stations Around Cape Town. Photo By David Harrison
South Africa’s youth are not apathetic but they don’t feel connected to the government and political parties and they don’t trust politicians. (David Harrison/M&G)

Despite thousands of people not voting because of “glitches” with the Electoral Commission of South Africa’s (IEC) new technology, the commission still defended the system and its general running of this year’s local government  elections. 

At the IEC’s national results centre in Tshwane, chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said that 238 403 voters had not been captured by the new voter management devices because of “technical glitches” during the registration weekend in September.

On voting day on Monday there were widespread reports of complaints that numerous people were being turned away from voting stations because they did not appear on the voters’ roll owing to the technical problems.

Those turned away were among the more than 1.7-million people who registered in September. 

Of the 238 403 registered voters whose details were not uploaded onto the electoral system, Mamabolo said 129 615 later managed to vote after eventually being captured on the database.

On Monday evening, commissioner Granville Abrahams said 67 000 people were turned away because of the problem, and that the IEC had subsequently sent out SMSes asking them to return to voting stations and cast their vote.

The IEC defended itself against criticism in the face of all these challenges, absolving itself and the new system of any fault, and maintaining that it had run credible elections under the circumstances.

“This organisation deserves a huge amount of praise for what it has been able to pull off under incredibly difficult circumstances,” said IEC commissioner Janet Love

Her views were echoed by Mamabolo, who said that without the new voter management devices “it would have been a sheer impossibility to deliver these elections”. 

By the end of Monday, more than 12.1-million people had voted, with data from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) pointing to a voter turnout of about 48%, which would be a significant decline from 58% in 2016. 

Touting the usefulness of the new devices, Mamabolo said that, in September, the IEC had been able to capture 1.7-million registered voters with their addresses on the system, whereas previously this exercise would have taken at least two months to complete. 

“Over the election period, a total of 176 006 additional addresses were included on the voters’ roll from voters who previously did not have an address,” Mamabolo said . 

The IEC, he said, expected to have counted 90% of the votes by Tuesday evening, and to release the final results on Wednesday, even with the threat of state power utility Eskom implementing blackouts to ease pressure on the strained national grid.

“The commission has noted the announcement by Eskom that the national electricity grid is currently constrained and there may be a need to shed load sometime in the course of the day. Discussions are underway to insulate capturing sites in order to minimise the impact on the results collation process,” Mamabolo said.

“The national results operations centre does have generators, which will be used in the event [that] load-shedding affects the Pretoria West area,” he added.