In a virtual meeting, the Committee was briefed on public submissions and contributions to the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill. Members heard that there were over 12 000 submissions from the general public mainly through the Dear South Africa platform, non-governmental organisations, such as the Helen Suzman Foundation and The Institute for Race Relations.
Members heard that the main concerns that were raised by the Institute for Race Relations were the lack of a socio-economic assessment. The Institute for Race Relations therefore objected to the entire Bill in this regard asking the IEC why no socio-economic assessment was made in terms of the Guidelines for Socio-Economic Impact Assessment System. Further, Members heard stakeholders call for geocode tagging as this could prevent voter fraud. While the Committee in some ways lauded electronic voting because it reduced costs and improved efficiency, concern was expressed about people in rural areas with regard to access and it was noted that the costs of elections in local areas tend to be even higher in rural areas. However it was acknowledged that electronic voting might be necessary during the pandemic.
Members asked for the presentation with the numerical data to be made available. The Committee stressed that it was essential that the IEC is equipped with the requisite resources and finances and asked whether the IEC would be able to resolve the issue of an electronic election by the 2021 election. The DA, ANC and IFP concurred on the matter of removing Sections 15 and 21 as manual voting was more transparent as it allowed for a paper trail. The Committee called for greater flexibility and inclusion in overseas voting and recommended that a minimum 15-day notice period for overseas voting be included in the final draft of the Bill.
It was decided that the IEC will be invited for their response and contributions in the next meeting. The Chairperson asked Members to think about the issues that were raised in order to participate meaningfully in the next meeting.
Opening remarks from the Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed Members and noted the presence of the Deputy Commissioner of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs. He outlined the agenda for the meeting and stated that the meeting would be premised on hearing the general public’s contributions on the proposed Electoral Laws Amendment Bill. The Chairperson noted that he had received several comments and calls on Section 14, which will be clarified in the presentation.
The Chairperson asked that Members note the public’s concerns on the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill. He stressed that it is imperative for Members voice their concerns as well so that the Committee’s position may be presented in the Committee’s meeting with the IEC. He highlighted that the meeting forms part of the broader statutory requirements for public participation.
The Chairperson noted absentee apologies from the Chairperson of the IEC.
Submissions on the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill
Mr Adam Salmon, Committee Content Advisor, said the Bill was of great public interest such that the submissions deadline was extended and the public was given 26 days to submit its contributions to the Bill. Approximately 11 000 submissions made through “Dear South Africa”.
One of the main concerns raised by the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) is the lack of a socio-economic assessment. The IRR objected to the entire Bill in this regard asking the IEC why no socio-economic assessment was made in terms of the Guidelines for Socio-Economic Impact Assessment System.
Mr Salmon reported that there was an objection to the entire Bill that passing this Bill would mean that the voting process would be open to manipulation by the ruling government party.
Mr Salmon reported that Dear South Africa and the IRR also objected that Clause 6 of the Bill deletes Section 23(3) of the Electoral Commission Act of 1996 which currently provides that: ‘Any regulation [made by the Commission] which affects state expenditure shall be made with the concurrence of the Minister of Finance’. This was especially concerning considering South Africa’s debt crisis. The question posed to the IEC is what the intention was in removing Clause 6.
The Fishoek Valley Rates Payers Association submitted that Section 24A in the Electoral Act and Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act should require a unique geocode to replace the address so that the IEC can properly maintain a standard where voters vote in a specific ward, local, metropolitan or district municipality. In addition, Dear South Africa submitted that there would be concerns of voter rigging if voters do not vote in specific places where a registry is kept to prevent multiple voting by the same voter. There was a suggestion that a geocode be used rather than an address to allow for homeless people to be counted and to participate in the voting process.
Dear South Africa voiced concerns that Clause 13 that relates to voting outside the Republic of South Africa, whereby the voter has to notify “the Commission within 15 days after the proclamation of the date of the election Chief Electoral Officer” if they intended to vote abroad. Members of the public felt that this timeframe was inadequate particularly in the circumstance where a person only knows much later that he/she will be outside the Republic. There were also concerns of unconstitutionality as the wording of this clause renders the section vague and difficult to interpret.
Clauses 14 and 21
Mr Salmon reported that there was genuine public concern related to Clauses 14 and 21, as, the new sub-section will confer upon the IEC the power to “prescribe a different voting method” to that prescribed in the Electoral Act. Furthermore, Clause 21 of the Bill seeks to introduce an identical amendment to Section 47 of the Municipal Electoral Act which will also have the effect that the IEC will be empowered to prescribe a different voting method for elections. The Helen Suzman Foundation submitted that this is an impermissible delegation of Parliament’s constitutional legislative function to prescribe the details of our electoral system citing Section 44 (1) of the Constitution.
Mr Salmon reported that there were Dear South Africa submissions that supported the Clauses 14 and 21 stating that electronic voting should be strictly monitored and that only numbers that were registered to a person were permitted to vote electronically and that where electronic voting is not possible physical voting could also be made possible.
Mr Salmon explained that the IEC has indicated on several occasions that electronic voting is being considered to reduce costs and improve efficiency. However, although traditional manual voting systems are not entirely immune from irregularities, international experience confirms that the safeguards they provide are far stronger than those available under electronic systems as they are accompanied by a strong paper trail. The costs of elections in local areas tend to be even higher in rural areas.
Dear South Africa submitted that in place of an electronic voting method, measures should be put in place to address corrupt behaviour. Furthermore, in considering electronic voting, while in theory electronic voting should be auditable, computer systems are vulnerable to hacking and rigging of results. In addition it would require that every political party should be permitted to audit the results independently which would be very expensive but would be the only fair way to ensure the elections are “free and fair”.
Mr Salmon reported that there were concerns that the vague wording in the section led to the omission of some key safeguards in ballot reconciliation which could affect the integrity of future elections. The question posed to the IEC with reference to S 50 (1) of the Electoral Act is why the reference to ballot papers is removed and why the words “ballot conducted” is used instead of the words “ballot cast” as before. Mr Salmon cautioned the Committee that S50 (1) was misquoted as the relevant section is S51 and not S50, stating that he will follow up with the IRR on this submission for clarity.
Mr Salmon reported to the Committee that another issue which the IRR raised pertaining to electronic voting is whether the IEC has considered the cost implications of potential future electronic voting in its internal costing of the Bill.
Mr Salmon reported that other general public comments that were made on the Bill included a recommendation to include the election of mayors in the Bill and a complete reform of the electoral system.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Salmon for his presentation and welcomed Members to make deliberations.
Mr A Roos (DA) stated that National Treasury does not usually approve of an entities’ internal spending. He added and clarified that entities usually only approach National Treasury when additional funding is necessary. He expressed that the requirement of geocodes instead of addresses may be overly burdensome on voters and concluded that the status quo seems to be the best approach. Pertaining to Clause 13, he suggested that the 15-day period could be used as the minimum notice period and that there should be more flexibility regarding overseas voting. He observed that the US elections resulted in the American public being dissatisfied with their electoral voting system and urged the IEC to develop solutions that will protect the integrity of the elections and ensure that public confidence was maintained. Mr Roos suggested that Clauses 14 and 21 be removed. He asked that there be more public participation and consultation.
The Chairperson asked Mr Roos to clarify what he meant by ‘public consultation’.
Mr Roos explained that Parliament was currently reviewing its public participation processes to include public education on the outcomes of their submissions and participation to ensure that the public wishes are adhered to in decision making processes. He stated that consultation includes socio-economic assessment and technical advice. Mr Roos stated that a comprehensive study of the possible remedies was necessary.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) shared Mr Roos’ sentiments on the question about Treasury. She stated that there is merit in asking the stakeholders to further engage with the Committee on the matter. She agreed with Mr Roos that Sections 15 and 21 be removed as manual voting is more transparent as it allows for a paper trail. She asked the IEC to explain how they intended to address the issues on electrical voting.
Mr G Hendriks (Al Jama-ah) stated that the alternative voting should be a completely different process to address the issues of socioeconomic assessment. He thanked the public for their responses and stated that he felt that the current matter is this one of great importance for the nation.
Ms M Molekwa (ANC) concurred with Mr Roos and Ms van der Merwe.
Ms A Khanyile (DA) agreed with Ms van der Merwe and Mr Roos. She asked that the IEC be given an opportunity to respond to the issues that the public has raised and stated that there should be more contingency measures to tackle the reality of a COVID19 election. She noted that the IEC had previously stated that the entity was not financially equipped to have an electronic election and asked whether the IEC would be able to resolve this issue by the 2021 election.
Mr M Lekota (COPE) stated that there were several alternatives that were presented in the presentation and asked that there would be more guidance on the matter before there can be a Committee opinion on the matter.
Mr D Moela (ANC) agreed with Members and asked for the presentation with the numerical data to be made available.
Mr M Chabane (ANC) stated that the issue of electronic voting is a pressing matter and stressed that it is essential that the IEC is equipped with the requisite resources and finances as there is a possibility of having to use electronic voting due to the pandemic. He noted the digital divide in South Africa and the need to bridge the digital divide in rural areas to make future electronic voting accessible. He stated that there was a need for the Committee to opt to amend the provision and not delete it completely.
The Chairperson thanked Members for their contributions and stated that the IEC will be invited for their response and contributions in the next meeting. The Chairperson asked Members to think about the issues that were raised in order to participate meaningfully in the next meeting.
The meeeting was adjourned.
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