03 April 2019

Parliament not told about 47% drop in registered 18 & 19 yr olds for elections

The Parliamentary Monitoring Group notes with concern the 47% drop in registered 18 and 19-year-olds for the 2019 elections compared to the 2014 elections. The IEC Xsê campaign and other marketing strategies went all out to encourage young voters to register. It partnered with digital news publications (News24 is an example) and ran a competition for matriculants which included asking them to indicate if they wanted to register to vote. IEC representatives visited young people house to house in villages such as Arniston to allow them to register. Voter registration drives were also held on campuses for students. However, the data shows these efforts were not enough:

Registered Voters





2019 Voters Roll

341 236     

47% drop

5 299 297

9% drop

2014 Voters Roll

646 313

4% drop

5 759 236

3% increase

2009 Voters Roll

669 421


5 614 209


This has serious implications for our 25-year-old democracy. Are young people disillusioned or simply apathetic? Ebrahim Fakir, elections expert, suggests that there is a growing tendency for younger people globally to participate less in formal political processes than older cohorts . This doesn’t necessarily mean they are agnostic, disengaged or apathetic, it simply means that they express themselves politically in other ways, such as direct action, protests, cultural form(s) and so on". This 47% drop was not mentioned in the IEC report to the Home Affairs Portfolio Committee which is a concern for the Parliamentary Monitoring Group as this prevents Parliament from performing effective oversight. 

Judith February, author of Turning and Turning: Exploring the Complexities of South Africa's Democracy, comments: 'It does seem curious that the IEC did not advise Parliament on this big drop in the 18-19 year old registration category.  It is incumbent on the IEC to point this sort of significant information to Parliament as the representative of the people'.

However, the alarm bell has rung for the Electoral Commission. Granville Abrahams, IEC Senior  Manager Electoral Matters is upbeat about the role that technology can play in beating this huge drop.  He explains that the Commission had aimed to replace registration hardware and software applications ahead of the 2019 elections but procurement challenges had not made this possible. This would have enabled rising above the challenge of the current registration process which requires locating an applicant on a physical map then using a barcode  associated with that map to register an applicant in the voting district where the applicant is "ordinarily resident".  The "ordinarily resident" principle underlying the SA voters roll is key as it directly impacts on the freeness and fairness of an election.

The IEC focus is on technology to replace the need for a physical map and barcodes thus allowing the voters roll to be updated remotely and immediately. In late February 2019, a two-week pilot of such a web based application proved highly successful.

The success of this pilot paves the way for greater interaction with schools where the IEC is already active with democracy education but up to now has been unable to register these “captive audiences” where a classroom of learners is eager to register there and then.  Granville Abrahams concludes, "This technology is promising for future registration of the youth and is bound to make an impact for the next elections. It will allow for a more direct approach as opposed to indirect approaches through marketing".

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