IEC toys with online voting in SA, but stays mum on details

The IEC has proposed an e-voting pilot project ahead of next year’s local government elections but does not have a budget for it.
Image: RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP

The Electoral Commission (IEC) is considering online voting in SA, but is keeping mum about the details for now, saying a proposal is being developed.

“In order to increase the efficiencies in the electoral process and to ameliorate some intractable challenges, especially in the counting and capturing of results, the commission has proposed an e-voting pilot project.

“The foremost consideration in the use of technology is to drive down the cost of elections and to increase operational efficiencies,” chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said on Tuesday.

“However, this initiative is currently unfunded. There have been discussions with the Treasury, and they have been willing to look at the matter. But as matters stand, this proposition remains unfunded,” he said.

Mamabolo wouldn’t divulge further details about how the e-voting pilot project would work or how much would be saved if SA moved to online voting. He said things were still at the project proposal stage.

He was addressing the portfolio committee on home affairs about the adjusted 2020/21 budget.

The commission said it was firmly on track with plans and preparations for next year’s local government elections, despite budget cuts. The commission’s budget for 2020/2021 has been reduced by R35m.

Mamabolo said they tried to implement the budget cut in a way that does not impair the capacity of the institution to deliver on next year’s elections.

“We have made cuts as we ought to, but we’ve done it in such a way that we are still able in the core business to do the preparatory work  necessary for the delivery of next year’s elections.”

The IEC is also in the process of procuring new voter management devices.

The commission said it secured funding from the Treasury for the procurement of the devices, but it remained to be seen if the available budget will be enough to cover the cost of the devices.

Mamabolo said the commission was evaluating the bids submitted. He said this item is  critical for the successful delivery of 2021 local government elections.

The device helps ensure that voters are registered in the correct ward segment and is also used to collect an address at the point of interface with the voter.

“On election day we will use these devices to obviate a person voting at one place and claim they also voted elsewhere. It’s a critical procurement item,” he said.

The IEC is planning to hold two registration weekends ahead of the elections next year. It warned, however, that any further budget cuts would force them to review the reality of two registration weekends.

The commission is targeting to register just over 25.9-million people.

The commission said it wants to keep the number of registered voters who appear on the voters’ roll and for whom the commission doesn’t have an address at the current 1.1-million. It said the number would gradually decrease over time.

“In terms of proposals the minister will table at some point, there is a mechanism we are proposing to deal with people who go to a voting station when they don’t have an address,” said Mamabolo.

MPs voiced concern over the commission’s cutting its face-to-face and democracy education events, citing Covid-19 lockdown regulations which limit physical contact.

The commission said it plans to focus on social media and radio to deliver civic and democracy education.

“The reality is that, even without Covid-19, young people these days receive their information on mobile devices. We therefore need to align our strategies to deliver civic and democracy education more and more on social media platforms rather than through traditional workshops.”

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