Independent Electoral Commission

A statutory body established in terms of the Electoral Commission Act to promote and safeguard democracy in South Africa.

voter education independent electoral commission
One of the things that the Independent Electoral Commission is responsible for is promoting voter education. (Image: Brand South Africa)

Brand South Africa reporter
The Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) is a permanent body established by the Constitution to promote and safeguard democracy in South Africa. It is a publicly funded body and while it is accountable to Parliament, it is independent of government.

The IEC, which was established in 1993, has five full-time commissioners, appointed by the President, whose brief is to deliver regular, free and fair elections at all levels of government – national, provincial and local.

In terms of the Electoral Commission Act of 1996, the IEC has to compile and maintain the voters’ roll and it is responsible for counting, verifying and declaring the results of an election – which must be done within seven days of the close of the election.

The IEC is also responsible for:

  • compiling and maintaining a register of parties;
  • undertaking and promoting research into electoral matters;
  • developing and promoting the development of electoral expertise and technology in all spheres of government;
  • continuously reviewing electoral laws and proposed electoral laws, and making recommendations; and
  • promoting voter education.

How does South Africa’s electoral system work?

Parliamentary elections are held every five years. Anyone aged 18 and over and who has registered on the voters’ roll is entitled to vote.

South Africa uses a proportional representation voting system based on political party lists at the national and provincial levels. A registered political party receives a share of seats in Parliament in direct proportion to the number of votes cast for it in the election. Voters don’t vote for individuals, but for a political party, which decides on members to fill the seats it has won.

What about municipal elections?

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

Municipal by-elections are held within 90 days after a municipal ward council seat becomes vacant. Once the election date is announced, the IEC adds the date to its online calendar and it publishes an election timetable.

Am I registered to vote? And if so, where?

If you’re on the voter’s roll, you’re registered to vote. You should check the roll to see if you’re registered and to make sure your details have been correctly entered – in particular, that you’re registered to vote in the area in which you live (your home area, the area to which you return after temporary periods of absence).

To confirm that your name is on the voters’ roll and to find out which voting station you’re registered at, you can:

  • check your voter registration status online;
  • SMS your ID number to 32810; or
  • inspect the voter’s roll at the office of the municipal electoral officer in the voting district where you live – see the IEC contacts box on the right.

Where and how do I register to vote?

You can apply to register only in the voting district in which you live or to which you regularly return after temporary periods of absence. You can register when you turn 16 years of age, although you can only vote when you are 18.

You can register at the office of your nearest municipal electoral officer during office hours (see the IEC contacts box on the right). To register, you must:

  • Apply for registration in person;
  • Be a South African citizen; and
  • Possess a valid bar-coded identity document or a valid temporary identity certificate.

Your details will be entered into the IEC database and, once they have been verified by the department of home affairs, entered into the voters’ roll.

You should check the roll after you’ve registered to make sure your details have been correctly entered – in particular, that you’re registered to vote in the area in which you live.

Am I allowed to vote if I live overseas?

Yes, you can. In 2013, legislation was amended to allow South Africans living outside of the country wishing to vote in elections to register in person either in South Africa or at one of South Africa’s embassies, high commissions or consulates-general located in 108 countries.

To do so, you have to have a valid South African identity document.

Where do I vote?

You can only vote in the district for which you registered – your name will only appear only on that part of the voters’ roll devoted to that district.

How are voting districts determined?

The IEC uses a wealth of information to work out voting districts, including information from the surveyor-general, the department of land affairs, and Statistics South Africa.

Prior to each election, the IEC inspects maps of municipality voting districts in order to align voting districts with local geographic, demographic and political changes that may have occurred since the previous election. Together with political party representatives, the IEC then locates voting stations for each district.

The geography of voting districts is also aligned to the country’s new statutory boundaries, as determined by the Municipal Demarcation Board.

What is the voting procedure?

Voters queue outside their voting station entrance, and their names are checked against the Voters’ Roll as they enter the station. To prevent cheating, a voter’s thumb is examined under an ultra-violet scanner for traces of the indelible ink that is applied to everyone who has voted.

In a typical general election, voters are then issued with two ballot papers, one to elect members of the National Assembly, the other to elect members of the relevant provincial legislature. Each ballot paper has a list of all registered political parties contesting the elections. Alongside each party name is the photograph of its leader, the party’s logo and a block in which voters can make their mark.

Each voter enters a private cubicle to cast their vote. A voter is allowed to make only one mark on each ballot paper for a party of their choice. Only a tick or a cross is acceptable in the appropriate box next to the chosen party. A mark anywhere else will spoil the ballot paper and so nullify the vote.

Voters do not have to vote for the same party for the National Assembly and their province’s legislature, though they can do so if they wish. After making their choice, voters deposit their ballot papers in a sealed ballot box and leave the station.

How does the IEC ensure that elections run smoothly?

The IEC is responsible for all the logistics of running elections, including the setting up voting stations in the most remote rural areas, installing telecommunications facilities and setting up a computer network to link all voting stations.

More importantly, however, are the preparations that the commission puts into the holding of elections. Thousands of officials – presiding officers, counting officers, volunteers and monitors – are trained for specific tasks and posted at voting stations on election days to carry out these tasks.

How is the fairness of elections determined?

The Electoral Act of 1998 makes specific provision for accrediting neutral observers for South African elections. These can include international observers from organisations such as the Organisation of African Unity, the European Parliamentarians for Africa and the Southern Africa Development Community.

Only organisations can apply to the IEC to observe elections. Observer missions compile a report and announce their findings about the conduct of the elections and whether the poll was free and fair.

In addition, political parties contesting the elections are entitled to have monitors at voting stations to ensure compliance with voting procedures. Party monitors and observers also keep a watchful eye on the counting process after the close of the vote.

Sources: Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa, Municipal Demarcation Board and Voting Station Finder.

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