Municipal elections: fact file

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Independent Electoral Commission
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Source: Independent Electoral Commission

South Africans are again using their right to vote in the upcoming 2011 local government elections, which take place on 18 May. This is the third such event since the arrival of democracy in 1994.

All elections in South Africa are overseen by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), a permanent body created by the Constitution to manage free and fair elections at all levels of government. Although publicly funded and accountable to parliament, the IEC is independent of the government.

On 1 September 2010 the IEC received lists of South Africa’s new wards from the Municipal Demarcation Board, an independent body responsible for marking municipal boundaries and establishing new wards and voting districts.

The 2011 municipal elections are taking place in eight metropolitan councils, 226 local councils, 44 district councils and 4 277 wards. Accordingly, the IEC has established 20 868 voting districts. Of these, 633 are categorised as voting centres and will cater for large numbers of voters.

As with national and provincial elections, municipal elections take place every five years. The five-year term of the present municipal administrations started on 2 March 2006 and has now ended.

Municipal by-elections take place within 90 days after a municipal ward council seat becomes vacant because of the death, expulsion or resignation of a ward councillor.

The first democratic municipal elections took place in 1995/6, and the first municipal elections run by the IEC took place in 2000.

Hybrid system for municipal elections

A mixed or hybrid system, making use of both the ward system and the proportional representation system, is used for municipal elections.

There are three types of municipal councils in South Africa:

  • Category A: metropolitan councils;
  • Category B: local councils; and
  • Category C: district councils (have executive and legislative powers in areas that include local municipalities).

For metropolitan municipalities, there are two types of elections in each ward:

  • Metropolitan council ward, and
  • Metropolitan proportional representation.

In all local municipalities other than metropolitan municipalities, there are three types of elections in each ward:

  • Local council ward;
  • Local council proportional representation; and
  • District council proportional representation.

Information for registered voters

Registered voters can text their ID number to 32810, contact the IEC call centre on 0800 11 8000 toll-free from 8h00 to 17h00, or visit www.elections.org.za to check on their registration details.

  • Go the IEC’s Am I registered? page to find out at which voting station you’re registered to vote.
  • Find the way to your voting station with the interactive voting station map.

Frequently asked questions:

For answers to more frequently asked questions, visit the IEC’s FAQ page.

What is the difference between national/provincial elections and municipal elections?
In national and provincial elections, you vote for a political party (proportional representative electoral system) to get seats in the national or provincial legislatures.

In municipal elections, you vote for a political party and a ward councillor (a mixed system of proportional representation and a ward constituency) to get seats at the municipal level.

How do I register?
To vote in elections, you must register as a voter. You only have to register once, unless you move or your voting district changes. South Africans over the age of 16, in possession of a green bar-coded ID book or temporary ID document, may register.

Registration for the 2011 elections is now closed. 

When do I have to re-register?
You only have to re-register when:

  • Your home address changes or
  • The IEC informs you that your voting district has changed

See Moved since you registered? to find out how to check if your voting district has changed.

How do I know if or where I’m registered?
You can check your registration status by:

  • sending an SMS with your ID number to 32810 or
  • using the IEC’s Am I Registered? web page.

If you’re registered, you will be informed of your voting station details.

Where can I vote?
You need to vote at the voting station at which you’re registered.

Can I vote online or by post?
No, you must vote in person at your voting station.

How do I know if my voting station has changed?
The IEC does try to communicate any changes, but visit Am I registered? and enter your ID number to confirm that your voting station hasn’t changed.

I registered at a temporary registration station. Where do I vote?
Voting stations may change from time to time, depending on availability of each voting venue. To find out where your voting station is, see Am I registered? and enter your ID number. You can then use the IEC’s online voting station finder to find a map to your voting station.

I am living overseas and voted in the 2009 elections. Can I vote in the municipal elections?
The Muncipal Electoral Act does not make provision for overseas voting during municipal elections, because citizens can only vote in the wards where they live.

I’m a registered voter, but I no longer live in South Africa. Can I still vote in municipal elections?
No, during municipal elections you can only vote in the voting district in which you are registered. However, you can vote during national elections (see special votes).

How many ballot papers will I get?
If you live in a metropolitan area (e.g. Johannesburg), you’ll receive two ballots: one for a ward councillor and one for a party.

If you live in a local council with wards (e.g. Standerton municipality), you’ll receive three ballots: one for a ward councillor for the local council; one for a party for the local council; and one for a party for the district council.

For answers to more frequently asked questions, visit the IEC’s FAQ page.