South Africans go to the polls

Millions are expected to cast their votes
tomorrow during South Africa’s fourth
democratic elections.
(Image: Britannica)

In their election campaigns, political
parties encouraged voters to use their
votes to effect change in the country.
(Image: Polity.org.za)

Khanyi Magubane

With less than 24 hours to go before South Africans cast their votes, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has announced that it expects the largest turnout since 1994.

Briefing the media on the expected voter turnout, the IEC’s chairperson Dr Brigalia Bam said that more than 80% of the registered voters were expected to cast their vote on 22 April.

“We feel very confident this time around. We have never experienced such a high enthusiasm amongst South Africans,” she said.

Statistics for this year’s elections include 200 000 election officials who will be working in 19 726 voting stations across the country. The number of registered voters captured on the voters’ roll stands at 23 181 997.

Bam said she’s especially encouraged by the high number of youths who have registered. According to Bam, the number is significantly higher than recorded in previous years. Nearly 800 000 are between 18 and 19 years of age, and five-million are between 20 and 29.

In total, 40 political parties will be participating in the national and provincial elections. Of these, 26 will participate nationally, while 14 parties will contest the elections at a provincial level.

Bam said the election campaigns ran by political parties had been vigorous, which she expects will boost voter numbers.

“We have never had so many political parties all over the country so involved … persuading people to vote for them,” said the chairperson. “We will be disappointed if we don’t get the 80% turnout. The effort we have put in preparing for these elections will not be good enough if we get only a 50% voter turnout.”

It’s voting day, now what?

For many first time voters tomorrow’s experience may be a daunting one but the IEC has gone to great lengths to explain the process, as even those who have voted before, may have forgotten how the process works.

In order to facilitate the smooth running of the voting process, a few key actions have been put in place. Firstly, voting station officials will check a potential voter’s ID to verify that the ID number appears on the voters’ roll.

Secondly, an official will check that the picture in the ID matches with the person standing in front of them.

Once the official is satisfied that the person is indeed eligible to vote, the voter’s hands will be checked to ensure that they have already cast their ballot for the day.

Inedible ink will then be used to mark the left thumb

The voter will then be issued with two ballot papers – one for national and another for provincial.

Officials will then direct the voter to a booth, where they will be able to cast their vote for their political party of choice, after which they will insert their ballot papers inside a secured ballot box.

For the first time since the 1994 elections, the IEC has now introduced the Braille ballot paper, which will enable visually impaired South Africans to vote independently.

South Africa is the second country after Japan to offer the Braille sheet to blind voters. Each voting station will be issued with a national and provincial Braille ballot paper.

Observing free and fair elections

In order for the elections to be recognised internationally as free and fair, a group of independent election observers will be present to monitor the voting process.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo is leading the election observers team consisting of 4 900 domestic observers, 355 international observers and 358 diplomats from 61 embassies.

On 17 April IEC Chief Executive Officer Pansy Tlakula addressed the observers to discuss the state of readiness for the elections.

Tlakula stressed that the IEC has spent the past year and a half in preparation for the elections. The process started with the registration of political parties who intended on running in this year’s poll.

She also explained to the observers that new technologically advanced systems would be used during the voting. She introduced observers to the “Zip-Zip”, a small hand-held device already loaded with the details of all the voters.

The “Zip-Zip” system will capture statistics on voting day including the number of voters, the age group, gender, as well as the time at which every vote is cast.
After voting closes at 9pm, all the ballot papers will be transported to the National Results Operation Centre. The state-of-the-art building will serve as an anchor to coordinate all the election activities at one central point.

The media will also be privy to the results as they trickle in via a digital board mounted inside the centre.

Regular press briefings will be held inside the centre, where journalists will be updated with the latest developments from the various voting centres across the country.

Members of various political parties will be provided with some access to the workings of the operations centre, though they will not be allowed to interfere with the work of the officials.

Duties of election observers include attending the ballot paper counting session in a bid to ensure that the final results are accurate and are a true reflection of the votes.

According to the electoral law, the final results can only be released 48-hours after the elections. This will give political parties a chance to contest interim results if they have any objections.

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