What the IEC’s preparedness for local govt elections amid COVID looks like

The IEC said the postponement of the general election, instead, requires the attention of the national legislatures or another approach to a court dependent on the justifications provided to the court.

FILE: A voter placing her marked ballots into the local and national ballot boxes on 8 May 2019. Picture: Eyewitness News.

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa is set to go ahead with the 2021 local government elections later this year and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) told Eyewitness News on Friday preparations were well under way.

The Presidency’s announcement last month that the elections would take place despite concerns around COVID-19 has been met with widespread criticism, especially from political parties who said that the pandemic hampered on their plans to run campaigns ahead of 27 October.

While some political parties such as the Democratic Alliance and African National Congress announced that they were ready for the elections, the Economic Freedom Fighters called for the upcoming local government elections to be postponed until 2024, citing that they wouldn't be free, fair or safe.

WHY NOT POSTPONE?

According to deputy provincial electoral officer Mawethu Mosery, postponing the elections is not as easy as an announcement. The five-year term of the current municipal council administration ends on 4 August 2021 and the Constitution states that elections must be held within 90 days, which makes the deadline 1 November 2021.

“The provision in law basically talks to, if a free and fair election cannot take place at a particular venue, then we can postpone voting on that day. So, the provision is more about postponing voting on voting day because it is not possible to hold a free and a fair process ... In terms of our legal prescripts, we have nothing as an Electoral Commission that we can use to postpone the elections.”

Earlier this year, the Electoral Commission announced the postponement of various by-elections due to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and this, according to Mosery, was because the commission approached the Electoral Court.

“Because it was evident that we were not able to conduct a free and fair election, we approached the court to give us an order to postpone those by-elections. And in all cases, the court postponed for a maximum of 120 days, which gives us just another four months to reorganise that particular election. When the court granted us the order, it ordered us to provide factors that made it impossible to hold a free election and one of our factors was to actually present the regulations were point to level two or level three at the time, which disallowed political activity.”

EXPLAINER: WHAT ARE BY-ELECTIONS

Mosery said the postponement of the general election, instead, requires national legislation changes or another approach to a court, dependent on the justifications provided to the court. “Those factors have not been put together to be used to approach a court to consider a postponement,” he said.

REGISTRATIONS AND THE NITTY GRITTY
Registration for the upcoming local government elections is set to take place between 17 and 18 July. However, Mosery said the commission encourages those who cannot register on the given dates to ensure that they make their way to registration offices before 27 October. This year, political parties will be competing for eight metropolitan municipalities, 205 local municipalities and 44 district municipalities.

The IEC said that this year, 25.78 million voter’s are on the roll, a decline from the 26.76 million in 2019.

  • 55% of the 25.78 million voters are female

  • Voters 30-39 make up the most number of registered voters with 26% followed by the 40-49 with 22% and then 20-29/50-59 age band with 17%.

COVID FEARS, VOTE ENCOURAGEMENTS – HOW WILL IT WORK?

Mosery said the commission would be setting up over 23,000 voting stations across the country. He said they were driving communication and educational programs ahead of elections, including the importance of participation by citizens, how to register and an update registration fees, as well as where and how to vote. The commission said it would also introduce new COVID-19 protocols that would ensure that voters, staff, are safe and educating about the dangers of misinformation.

HOW WILL ALL OF THIS BE DONE?

For starters, the commission has revamped its website with all the necessary information voters and parties will require easily accessible. Mosery said they have set up an app for citizens to report disinformation on social media, the REAL411 app. The online candidate nomination system used by political parties has also been enhanced. “Lastly, we are working on an application that will allow first-time voters to be able to register and authenticate themselves during the registration process,” Mosery said.

SAFETY A PRIORITY

According to Mosery, the Electoral Commission was working with the Department of Health to ensure that registration and voting stations do not become super spreader hotspots. “To receive ongoing updates and advisory messages from them on the behaviour of the virus and their vaccination programmes.” South Africa’s vaccine rollout programme has been described by man as sub-par, with many South Africans expressing disappointment.

Deputy President David Mabuza conceded to Parliament that the government’s vaccine rollout has been anything but efficient. However, government has continued to assure citizens that they will speed up the process of vaccinating more citizens in the coming months. The IEC has announced that it will introduce mandatory non-pharmaceutical interventions at voting stations, such as strict social distancing both inside and outside of voting stations, wearing masks, and applying hand sanitisers.

The commission said it would also be replacing traditional indelible marker pens with indelible ink liquid which will be applied from bottle to thumb with cotton buds. Home visits will be conducted for sick, elderly and pregnant people.

The commission’s Mosery has urged eligible voters to register and exercise their right to participate in the upcoming elections.

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