Local Government Municipal Electoral Amendment Bill: Independent Electoral Commission briefing

Home Affairs

02 September 2010
Chairperson: Mr B Martins (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) gave a preliminary briefing to the Committee on the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Amendment Bill (the Bill), which would amend the provision of the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act of 2000 (the Act). This Bill sought to address problems identified during both the 2006 local government elections and the 2009 national elections, and would in many cases harmonise the local government elections with what applied in the national elections.

In particular, the IEC identified that the bill would give a prescribed election timetable. It would revise provisions around nomination of candidates. It would regulate central payment of prescribed deposits by parties contesting an election. It would also revise the powers of presiding officers in the Act to alter boundaries of voting stations when necessary. It would revise the provisions of the Act regulating the number of party agents permissible in a voting station. It would clarify the provisions relating to assistance to voters. It would insert a new provision to allow for special votes and the procedure for these. It would also enhance the powers and functions of the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Court in relation to the determination and declaration of results, and would clarify the provisions of the Act around objections and the procedures for submitting, handling and resolving these objections. The clauses of the Act were outlined and explained, indicating where they would change the current position.

Members questioned whether some voting stations found that they could not accommodate the number of voters.  Members expressed their concern Clause 7, which would allow for disabled voters to be assisted by presiding officers at election stations, had the potential for abuse. The Chairperson said that provision should be made for blind voters to be regarded as “disabled” for the purposes of all elections. The Commission indicated that some blind voters were currently being assisted by under-age children, which was a problem for the Commission. Members also commented on the provisions around a special election, and asked whether the Commission would have enough resources to check the applications of, and carry out home visits, where applications were made to allow citizens to vote outside of the declared period. Members also sought clarity on the time periods allowed for objecting to the result of an election, currently and in the future.
 

Meeting report

Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) briefing
Mr Michael Hendrickse, Senior Manager, Independent Electoral Commission, briefed the Committee on the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Amendment Bill [B27-2010] (the Bill). After the 2006 Local Government elections and the 2009 national elections, several problem areas were identified, which this Bill sought to address.

This Bill was proposed in order to give a prescribed election timetable outline, which was not included in the current Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act of 2000 (the Act), although it was included in the Electoral Act. The Bill also sought to revise certain provisions relating to nomination of candidates. The Bill would regulate central payment of prescribed deposits by parties contesting an election. It would also revise the powers of presiding officers in the Act to alter boundaries of voting stations when necessary. It would revise the provisions of the Act regulating the number of party agents permissible in a voting station. It would clarify the provisions relating to assistance to voters. It would insert a new provision to allow for special votes and the procedure for these. It would also enhance the powers and functions of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC or the Commission) and the Electoral Court in relation to the determination and declaration of results. It would revise the Act’s provisions on objections material to results of an election, and the procedure for submission, handling and resolution of objections by the Commission and/or Electoral Court.


The Bill sought, in advance of the 2011 Local Government elections, to rectify several provisions in the Act which currently made it difficult for people to cast their ballots.

Mr Hendrickse then tabled slides that explained the provisions of the Bill. He noted briefly, the amendments to definitions, including the election timetable to which he had referred earlier, in Clause 1. Clause 2 would amend the requirement that a candidate must submit certified copies of his or her identity document, but brought the Act closer in line with the Electoral Act in that candidates wishing to contest the election must now also submit an undertaking to bind the party, supporters, members, and candidates to the Code and give a declaration that all candidates qualified.
Clause 3 provided that in addition to the current requirements, a candidate’s nomination must in future be accompanied by a declaration that the candidate was not disqualified from standing in the election, and an undertaking to be bound by the Code. In future, a candidate who omitted to submit the required documents would not be automatically disqualified. but would be given the opportunity to resubmit by a certain date. Clause 4 would allow candidates who were contesting in more than one municipality to pay all deposits at one central point, instead of having to go to each municipality.

Mr Hendrickse pointed out that previously the Act did not allow for the changing of a boundary at a voting station to secure proper control or security, although the Electoral Act did allow for this. Clause 5 would now allow for this to happen at local elections. Clause 6 made provision for more than two agents for parties, and more than one agent for independents, to be appointed at voting stations.

Clause 7 catered for the need to assist voters in voting, and would allow a voter with a disability to be assisted, should he or she request this, by a presiding officer.

Clause 8 would amend Section 55 of the Act. At the moment, voting could only take place on voting days and in the voting district where the individual voter was registered. This could prevent some people from casting their votes. The new Clause would allow a person to make application, through a proper process, to vote one day prior to the regular voting day, in his or her registered district.

Section 64 of the Act currently required the determination and declaration of election results within seven days, and no exceptions were allowed. Clause 9 now permitted an application to the Electoral Court for an extension of this period. Clause 10 also related to extensions of time for objections to be disposed of. It also provided a procedure for lodging of complaints and arbitration of objections of electoral results. The amendment would clarify what “any aspect of an election” meant, would enhance the powers of the Electoral Court in deciding on an objection, would clarify the powers of the Electoral Court, and, most importantly, re- regulate the process to enhance effectiveness and fairness.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked whether the Commission found that people could not always be accommodated at voting stations, due to large numbers.


Mr Hendrickse said that that was sometimes the case, if large numbers of people tried to vote in districts which were not necessarily their home districts.

Mr M Mnqasela (DA) said that there was provision in the current Act to deal adequately with the problems around biased election agents attempting to influence voters on an election day. He was worried that the amendment proposed in Clause 7, which would allow a presiding officer to assist a disabled person on election day, could create problems.

The Chairperson said that members should not cast aspersions on electoral officials. He suggested that Members of the Committee should consult their respective political parties, to discuss whether they were in agreement with Clause 7 in particular, and bring back the parties’ comments to the Committee.

The Chairperson added that the IEC should consider classifying blind voters as disabled voters. In some cases blind people were not allowed to request assistance when voting, because they were not universally classified as “disabled” in all the electoral legislation.

Dr Brigalia Bam, Chairperson, IEC, said that sometimes blind people who needed assistance with voting brought underage minors, who of course could not vote for themselves, to assist them. This created problems for the IEC, and some blind people had been turned away from voting stations.

Mr Stefanus van der Merwe, IEC Commissioner, added that two commissioners had reviewed ballot papers that were supposedly cast by blind voters.

Mr Mnqasela said that he was not trying to cast aspersions about the ability of electoral officers to be impartial, but was drawing the attention of the Committee to potential areas of risk for the IEC. He said that he would take up the Chairperson’s suggestion and bring a suggestion how to address Clause 7.

The Chairperson asked about Clause 8, dealing with special election voting, and asked how the Commission would assess the people who qualified to vote under special circumstances, and those who did not.

Mr Hendrickse said that the Commission would assess whether a person should receive special dispensation to vote from home. He said that the provision was mainly aimed at people in remote areas who would find it difficult to get to a polling station. Applications would have to be submitted prior to the election date, so that proper vetting could be carried out by the Commission.

Ms P Maduna (ANC) asked whether the IEC would have enough vehicles to complete home visits for persons granted special dispensation.

Mr Hendrickse replied that a proper pre-application phase would allow for the Commission to plan how it could visit all citizens eligible for special voting dispensation.

Dr Bam emphasised that the special dispensation would only be granted to people in remote or rural areas, and not to those who were able to get to voting stations in urban areas.
 
Mr Mnqasela sought clarity on whether an objection against a declared election result had to be submitted within three days currently, and whether an election result could be overturned in the event that the objection had merit.

Mr Van Der Merwe said that, depending on the nature of the objection, three days was often too short a space of time to properly arbitrate an objection, but that was currently the provision in the Act. National election results were not, in practice, announced before all objections had been dealt with. Any objection would be dealt with according to the nature of the issue it raised.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would review the Commission’s proposed amendments and suggest amendments as the Bill went through the proper processes.

Ms M Maunye said that the amendments proposed by the Bill would assist with Local Government elections, and she proposed that they be implemented as swiftly as possible.

The meeting was adjourned.


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