Independent Electoral Commission on preparations for 2014 National & Provincial elections

Committee: Home Affairs

Chairperson: Ms M Maunye (ANC)

Date of Meeting: 13 Aug 2013

Summary

The Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) gave a full and detailed presentation on its work towards the holding of the 2014 National and Provincial Elections. Firstly, it was noted that the Electoral Amendment Bill was before Parliament, and it was hoped that this would be passed and the Act put into operation prior to the 2014 election, to help with training of electoral officials. The IEC emphasised the importance of accountability and transparency during elections.

The presenters firstly set out the conditions in which an election was to take place, and noted that the terms of the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures were to expire on 21 April 2014, and an election had to be called within 90 days of this date. The IEC was well in hand of preparations, and was ahead of its plans on some. However, its first concern related to voter numbers. The IEC was constantly seeking to increase the voter numbers, and would be holding registration weekends, and a Schools Democracy Week in October 2013, in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education, to inform those eligible to vote how they could register and vote, and in general to make the youth more politically aware. Particular emphasis would be placed on new media, although traditional outreach would also be used, as Facebook, Twitter and similar applications were more readily available to all, and particularly effective in reaching younger voters. Only 12% of 18 or 19-year olds who were eligible to vote had registered, and this was of substantial concern. Although other age groups showed higher registration, there would be targeted efforts there too, particularly for areas with lower than 60% registration. Voter registration weekends had proven successful in the past, and would be used again. The voters’ roll was explained, and it was noted that it would close on the date when the election was announced, and would be available to all political parties and electoral candidates, and was readily available for inspection. Although there were 225 registered political parties in South Africa, the IEC assured Members that the largest number who had ever participated in an election was 19, largely because of the mandatory fee.  

There had been extensive collaboration between political parties and the IEC to settle the criteria for election officials, who must be present at voting stations and act as the face of the organisation. Those holding political or affiliated-political office or who were politically active were precluded from acting as a presiding officer or deputy presiding officer. Over 250 000 election officials were to be recruited and trained for the election. There was substantial emphasis on tight security, particularly with the ICT, to ensure confidence in the legitimacy of elections. ICT audit firms had been invited to tender to check the system, in order to check weaknesses, and dry runs held prior to the elections would provide the IEC with a chance to analyse the systems prior to Election Day. The procedures for vote counts, vote transport, and announcement of results were set out.

Members were appreciative of the presentation and the substantial efforts of IEC and its obvious commitment to free and fair elections. They asked if the problems that resulted in accusations of voter fraud in KwaZulu-Natal had been addressed, and raised concern with whether the Smart Card system had been adequately tested, as well as asking how the Zip-Zip cards at voting stations would be used. They asked who was permitted to be present at voting stations, how security was handled, and the arrangements for observers. They questioned whether voters would be allowed to vote in a province different to the one where they were registered, whether all the provisions of the Electoral Amendment Bill had been settled, whether the IEC had made provision for disabled people, and what arrangements were made to ensure that all parties had equal broadcast opportunities. They noted that online voting was not to be used for this election. They urged that the safety of all voters should be assured.
 


Minutes

Preparations for the 2014 National and Provincial Elections: Independent Electoral Commission briefing
Ms Pansy Tlakula, Chairperson, Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa, noted that the Electoral Amendment Bill was currently in Parliament, and she hoped it would be fast-tracked as it would aid in training of employees by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC or the Commission) prior to the 2014 elections.

She then tabled her presentation (see attached document) on the IEC’s preparations for the elections. The political climate was significant as these elections marked the 20th anniversary of democracy. There were various strategies to encourage youth voting, and specific targeting of areas that had been unhappy with the democratic process. The importance of working with other Chapter 9 institutions, especially the South African Human Rights Commission and Commission for Gender Equality was noted, and the IEC had meetings planned with them shortly. It was a priority to reach out to marginalised communities, as the IEC recognised the importance of preventing any conflict at electoral stations, rather than addressing it after it had occurred. In addition, she would outline, later, the proper training of electoral staff and presiding officers which would be a major factor in ensuring free, fair and successful elections.

Ms Tlakula spoke to the importance of the enforcement of the Code of Conduct and stated that law enforcement bodies must also understand their role in relation to elections. The Code of Conduct could only be effective if there was successful prosecution, which could be done if the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development were to set up specialised courts, similar to what had been done during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The issue of the credibility of the voters roll was brought into question, as it had caused issues during by-elections.

Mr Mosotho Moepya, Chief Electoral Officer, IEC, noted that the five year terms of the National Assembly and the Provincial Legislatures would expire on 21 April 2014, and an election was to be called within 90 days after this term and proclaimed by the President. Proposed legislative amendments were made to re-examine the registration process for voters and for South Africans living abroad. Election debriefings were to be held at municipal, provincial and federal levels, to learn where improvements could be made. An emphasis would be placed on working with civil society and with political parties.

Mr Moepya outlined some of the changes to the Electoral Act (the Act), with the insertion and amendment of definitions, as well as the revision of provisions related to the registration of voters. Provisions related to the number of party agents present at a voting station were to be changed, in order to alleviate problems uncovered during previous elections. The Election Programme Management (EPM) was an integrated programme that entailed 375 election-related projects across divisions of the IEC. The projects were to be managed across all the spheres of the IEC at national, provincial and municipal electoral offices, with weekly progress reviews, and monthly formal reports. Currently, there were no concerns and the programme was on track.

 At that point the programme had rose no concerns and was on track.

Mr Moepya then moved to speak to delimitation, saying that the IEC was constantly updating its voting station network in accordance with new human settlement patterns. Accessibility of voting stations was an issue that had now been addressed, as the number of stations rose from 20 859 in 2011 to an estimated 22 225 in 2013.

The expansion of staff recruitment and training had occurred at National and Provincial Offices and the implementation was under way. The capacity of all district offices had been increased and 242 Municipal Outreach Coordinators had been recruited. Phase 1 of training had been completed. In this regard, IEC had managed to move ahead of its own schedule, as 2 137 of the planned 4 277 Area Managers had been recruited for the 2014 elections, and 21 901 of the planned 44 484 registration officials had been recruited for the general registration weekends. Phase 2 of the recruitment and training of expansion staff was to be completed in September 2013.

The IEC introduced outreach plans to increase voter turnout. The outreach comprised Civic and Democracy Education (CDE), stakeholder management, international relations, election observation and communications. All materials were to be available in all official languages as well as braille. Meetings had been held between the IEC and the Department of Basic Education (DBE), and planning for the  Schools Democracy Week in October 2013 was well on time. The intention of this week was to raise awareness of the democratic process among students, and to advise those who were eligible to vote of where and when they could register and vote. A National Coordinating Forum (NCF) had been established, consisting of members of civil society organisations at National and Provincial levels. The NCF intended to address matters of electoral education, to coordinate efforts aimed at proactively addressing conflict management, and to encourage election observation by domestic observers. The planning of an international conference on youth and elections was mentioned, during which youth would talk about electoral issues and their involvement in the democratic process.

Other public awareness initiatives included the introduction of a new election logo, which hoped to speak to the IEC’s target groups. The platforms the IEC intended to use included outdoor media, print, television, radio, digital and new media, such as Facebook and Twitter. These were the primary focus, as they were accessible to most citizens and had taken the nation by storm, whilst outlets such as Facebook provided the capability of reaching the targeted youth and targeted population. The public website was remodelled, to allow voters to check their registration status online, as well as to provide crucial up-to-date information. Voters were able to check on their registration status via SMS as well as via a toll free public call centre.

The Electoral Code of Conduct would be heavily enforced during the elections. This Code was generally enforced by the Electoral Court, except for cases which were deemed to be criminal offences and which therefore fell to be dealt with by other courts. The Electoral Code of Conduct must be followed by every party and/or candidate contesting an election. Previous election experience had led to the conclusion that improved training was needed for law enforcement officials. The possibility of designating special courts to hear electoral cases was explored, but no decision had yet been reached.

Mr Moepya then turned to issues of voter registration. The IEC was primarily concerned with the young voters, since only 12% of voters aged 18 to 19 were registered, or only 185 000 of a possible 1.5 million.
The planned trips to schools would help increase this number but many more still would need to be reached. Metropolitan youth populations were of concern to the IEC, and strategies would need to be implemented to increase voter registration in this age group. Secondly, although the voter registration rate for those aged 20 to 29 was better, at 65%, there were still a number of eligible voters unaccounted for, particularly in the Western Cape and Gauteng. There were smaller gaps in respect of older voters, but the IEC would still target them as well, as it intended to encourage maximum participation.

The Voters Roll remained a fundamental contributor to the credibility of South African elections. As at 5 August 2013, there were 23 062 521 voters registered on the Voters Roll, but the continuous voter registration yield was low. Phase 1 of the Targeted Communication and Registration (TCR) effort had yielded in 310 000 registrations in targeted areas. Phase 2 of TCR intended to target wards in which registration was 60% or lower, during a four day period in September. IEC had found, from past experience, that hosting general registration weekends was successful in registering voters. The voters roll was updated at least once a month, and there were records of all voters since the Roll was first formed in 1998. Copies of the voters roll were handed out to parties and candidates contesting elections, and it was readily available for inspection, whenever an election had been called.

Slides were tabled (see attached presentation) showing the increase in verified voters between the 1999, 2004 and 2009 elections, and the numbers for 2013.

Mr Moepya noted that there were 225 registered political parties in South Africa, 140 in the national sphere and 85 in the municipal sphere. Registration for political parties never closed, and the only time requirement for them to contest was that they be registered prior to nomination day. Another requirement for contesting an election was the payment of a fee, which separated out those who intended to take the election seriously. The  IEC had scheduled information meetings with non-represented parties across all spheres of government.

Over 250 000 election officials were to be recruited for the elections. They would have to attend at the actual voting station and act as the face of the IEC.  All officials were to be trained before the election. The criteria for their appointment were formulated after extensive collaboration with political parties. Presiding and deputy presiding officers must not have held political office, been a candidate or been politically active.

The process for procuring election material was under way and the materials necessary for the registration weekends had already been delivered to the IEC provincial warehouses. Members of the IEC had already approved the design and security features of the ballot paper, and election materials would be ready in January 2014. Voting stations would be given a small buffer of election materials, in order to avoid problems if an unexpectedly higher number of voters showed up at one station, in order to avoid longer queues at another.

Mr Moepya said that security related to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) was taken very seriously. IEC had tight security measures in its own ICT environment and conducted regular drills to ensure preparedness. There was a confidential disaster recovery plan in place. A strong focus on security would ensure the confidence of voters in the legitimacy of the elections. Tender invitations were to be sent out to ICT audit firms in October 2013, for independent testing of the results system to determine its readiness for the elections. This would enable IEC to discover any weaknesses and fix them so they did not recur during the election. Two “dry runs” were to be held prior to the elections, with simulations of situations that could occur on or soon after Election Day. The use of Smart Card Identity cards was tested in collaboration with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), in both registration and voting situations, and these tests proved to be successful. In every voting stations, “zip-zip” cards would carry the entire voters’ roll and allow for recognition of the voting district where they were used.

The credibility of the results was also of extreme importance. The role of party agents at voting stations and results capturing centres had been strengthened. All counting of votes was to be done in the presence of party agents and observers, and the votes subsequently placed and transported in transparent tamper-proof packs. At the conclusion of counting, party agents would have the opportunity to verify and sign the results slips. Following the tabulations of results slips, there would be another tabulation, and independent results auditors must be present to ensure the legitimacy of the results. Results would be announced simultaneously to the nation, as another method of ensuring transparency. Political parties and the media were to be given the opportunity to examine the IEC’s systems, to verify the results, and ensure that the processes were functioning properly.  Any complaints from voters about any perceived errors were to be made available online.

When an election had been proclaimed, the voters’ roll was to be closed and that closed roll would be the document e used for the election. An Election Timetable was to be drafted and consulted upon with the political parties participating on the national level, and, once finalised, would be published in the Government Gazette. The timetable would note the closing date for nominations, as well as the deadlines for payment of election deposits. The dates for special voting days abroad, as well as in South Africa, were also to be noted in this timetable. Any votes effected abroad were to be transported back to South Africa and securely stored in pre-selected storage facilities, but would be counted only when the voting stations closed and counting commenced nationwide.

Mr Moepya then set out the IEC’s Election Day staffing and procedural plan. Approximately 200 000 staff members would be on duty on Election Day across the country. Voting stations were to be serviced by a national results operations centre, as well as nine provincial operations centres. These centres served as the hubs for all electoral activity, as well as reference points for parties and the media. The hours for voting stations would be published in advanced. Counting was to take place immediately after voting had finished. All complaints or objections would be considered and decided upon prior to the declaration of results. When the process was finished, the results and seat allocations would be announced.

In conclusion, Mr Moepya reiterated the importance of this election as the 20th anniversary of South African democracy. The most important challenges, in the view of the IEC, were the closing of the voter registration gap, especially for the youth, and getting the amendments to the Act passed in time. However, he also noted that the IEC was on track in all its preparations. Finally, he re-stated the IEC’s commitment to free and fair elections and thanked the Committee for the opportunity to outline its work.

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked the IEC for its presentation and appreciated its commitment to the task at hand. The IEC seemed to be functioning smoothly and to be well prepared for the tasks facing it. However, she noted the concerns of the Committee about the recent by-election in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), which had been cancelled due to accusations of voter registration fraud.

Mr G McIntosh (COPE) recognised the importance of the IEC to the elections of South Africa, and noted the higher percentage of older voters who had registered. He also mentioned the problems in KwaZulu Natal, and stated that the IEC should ensure that political parties were not breaking electoral laws or abusing the system.

Ms Tlakula noted that the issues that had occurred with voter registration in KZN that had caused the cancellation of the by-election had been sorted out, and would not recur in 2014, because of the new voters’ roll that the IEC had compiled. She wanted to correct the perception that this was a general problem and assured Members that the case in KZN was a once-off, and that the IEC had since tightened up on the provisions to ensure it would not recur. She declined to comment further on the issue itself, saying that some of the matters were still in the hands of the Constitutional Court.

Dr C Mulder (FF+) also thanked IEC for another comprehensive presentation, and said it was clear that a lot of work had been done already, including amending the Act in regard to voting of South Africans living abroad. However, there was work still needed on other provisions of the Amendment Bill.

The Chairperson then requested the Members avoid dealing with the proposed amendments because the information was not readily available to everyone.

Dr Mulder asked if persons involved with unions should not also be precluded from being presiding officers.

Ms Tlakula responded that persons holding office in organisations affiliated to political parties would not be eligible to be officials at voting stations, and this included politically-affiliated unions.

Mr McIntosh asked if persons who might be out of their district on business would be allowed to vote in another district.

Mr A Gaum (ANC) asked if the IEC position was still that a person who voted in a different province to the one where s/he was registered was only permitted to vote for the national election and not their provincial election, wondering if the reasons advanced for this previous position were still relevant today.

Ms Tlakula responded that although the IEC was appealing to all South Africans to try to vote where they had registered. Although they did indeed have the right to vote anywhere, it created far less confusion in the system if they voted where they had registered, and would allow for a smoother election day.  

Mr McIntosh also enquired about the IEC policy on observers being present.

Ms Tlakula said that outside observers were to be brought in, but IEC wanted to ensure that the observers did not treat their` tasks as an opportunity for a holiday, but rather as an integral part of maintaining the integrity of the electoral process.

Mr M Mnqasela (DA) also praised the presentation. However, he had a concern with the use of the Smart System, as it was unproven. He also asked how many voters would have the Smart Cards and whether the IEC could ensure that there were no technical hitches in their use.

Mr Mnqasela thought the use of media by political parties should be moderated, as everyone should have equal exposure. The IEC should strive to engage with public broadcasters and ensure that any one specific party’s dominance of media was reduced.

Ms Tlakula noted that that the IEC had invited that Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and the public broadcasters of South Africa to give a presentation to the IEC on how they intended to allocate airtime. The IEC also would be running a workshop, to which the public and private media outlets would be invited, to discuss effective methods of regulating election conduct, perhaps even by creating a code of conduct, but the responses on this had not yet been finalised.

Ms P Petersen-Maduna (ANC) asked if the IEC had reached target numbers in regards to those with disabilities.

Mr Moepya noted to the Committee that the IEC had met all disability employment standards, and was training any disabled staff to the full capacity of their positions.
 
Ms N Mnisi (ANC) asked whether the nine provinces were sharing the national warehouse.

Mr Sy Mamabolo, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, IEC, explained that there were currently eight provincial warehouses, because the one in Limpopo was in the process of moving.

Mr A Gaum (ANC) reiterated the confidence of his colleagues in the IEC as well as stressing the importance of increasing the percentage of young voters.

Mr Gaum asked what dates the registration weekends were to take place, and whether the IEC had considered initiating online voting.

Ms Tlakula noted that there would be two registration weekends, but that at the moment she was not at  liberty to provide the Committee with any dates, because this might provide parties with an unfair preparation advantage.

Ms Tlakula said that there had been substantial debates on the question of online voting, and the question was raised whether the South African democracy was old enough for such a step. The general consensus was that it was not, so people still would have to vote in person.

Ms D Mathebe (ANC) noted her concern with the number of parties registered, stating that 225 parties was far too many.

Ms Tlakula said that although this may seem a very high number, the actual number of those contesting the elections was far smaller, as many parties did not pay their election fees and thus were not eligible to be included in the ballot. The greatest number parties that had ever appeared on the ballot was in 2009, when there were 19 parties contesting the election.

Ms Mathebe asked if those who had dual citizenship, or those who had only recently acquired citizenship could vote.

Ms Tlakula said that anyone who had South African citizenship had the right to vote.

Several Members expressed concern as to who would be allowed to visit the voter’s stations during voting, saying that this was not completely clear to them.

Mr Mnqasela asked if leaders could visit voting stations since, unlike candidates, they were unaccredited.

Mr Sy Mamabolo, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, IEC, restated the IEC’s commitment to continuous voter safety outside of the voting stations. Collaboration with South African Police Service would be necessary and ongoing.

Ms Tlakula also spoke of the need to regulate staff outside of the station, and place boundaries around voting stations specifying where booths or tables could or could not be set up. Political visitors to voting stations were requested to give advance notice if they intended attending at a voting station on Election Day.

Ms Reinette Taljaard, Commissioner, IEC, commented on the need to promote inter-generational ownership of the right to vote, and to create youth involvement. She also reiterated that avoiding electoral fraud was a matter of great concern to the IEC, which was very well aware of the importance of transparency in elections. This would be the collective responsibility of the IEC and the parties involved in the election. The IEC would ideally like to reach a point where it would not have to rely on courts to achieve electoral justice.

Mr Mamabolo gave a further explanation on the use of the Zip-Zip card system. He told the Committee that this was not a way to record a vote, but a way to locate the person voting, from the voters roll. The Zip-Zip was a registration tool designed to speed up the process and aid electoral officials. However, the voters’ roll remained the authoritative document.   

Mr Mnqasela mentioned a problem during the last election, when boxes of votes were unaccounted for during the initial tabulation process. Although this problem had been solved, he wanted to know how it could be avoided, because it could cause unnecessary conflict.

Mr Moepya said that the IEC had a specific system dictating how ballots were to move. The situation raised by Mr Mnqasela had been an isolated incident. There could be logistical problems, simply because there was a risk of them in every election, but the most important matter was how the IEC handled them if they did arise. The IEC had learned from past mistakes, and had taken steps to avoid them, and also had emergency plans in place. IEC was confident that it was well prepared for the election and looked forward to demonstrating this to the Committee.

The Chairperson once again thanked the IEC for its work and its presentation and felt the praise given to its officials was well-deserved.

The meeting was adjourned.