Ensuring free, fair elections is everyone’s duty

Henry

To ensure that this year’s general election runs smoothly and fairly will ultimately be the duty of every citizen entitled to vote, Dr. Corné Mulder, the Freedom Front Plus’ chief whip and spokesman for the Multiparty Charter, told RNews this week.

So the onus rests on everyone with eyes that can see, and a smartphone that can take videos and photos, to immediately report any possible irregularities at the polls.

“We want to ask the public to help check for any irregularities – either a ballot box that might be hidden or letters that are printed in another ballot box. Help take pictures, help take videos.”

According to Mulder, the Multiparty Charter plans to make available a central communication point where any information about anything that could hinder a free and fair election can be reported.

Help from the public forms part of the Multiparty Charter’s objective and strategy to have eyes and ears right over the country on polling day.

Dr. Theuns Eloff, political expert, agrees that the public also has a role to play to ensure fairness.

“I think civil society needs to be vigilant. Where people can, they should raise their hand to be a volunteer. When there are problems at polling stations, one can do something about it and pass it on publicly to the parties and media.”

The Multi-Party Charter had earlier undertaken to ensure that the national as well as provincial elections were fair and accurate by also approaching foreign actors.

The parties have written to various foreign ministers, other representatives and relevant organizations and requested help to ensure that the results of the election truly reflect the will of South Africans.

This could mean that a delegation from abroad – at their own expense – is sent to South Africa to observe, among other things, polling stations. Ultimately, it will be important to keep a close eye on what happens with votes, and to make sure that the counting is also fair so that the correct figures are passed on to the central control point. Here all votes are tallied at the end of the day.

On voting day itself, the Multiparty Charter also wants to make sure that there is sufficient supervision at all 23,000 polling stations across the country.

This is in addition to the agents each political party sends to supervise on behalf of the party, as well as police officers who must maintain law and order at polling stations.

Thus, the Multiparty Charter also wants to keep track of their own vote count to finally compare with the vote count that is passed on by polling points.

“If we can see early on ‘but according to our records, this party here lacks 30,000 votes’, we can react quickly.”

Impartiality of OVK questioned

Another issue that is often speculated about is whether the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) can really act impartially – especially in relation to the ANC and the influence this party may have on the IEC.

However, Eloff says that the IEC should be given the benefit of the doubt, and that at this stage he does not notice anything unfair in the run-up to voting day that favors one party over another.

He refers, among other things, to the schedule that was released in the run-up to the election and to which parties must comply.

“Some parties have complained about the timelines, but I think it looks good. There was indeed a budget cut and I do not know if this will have an influence on the IEC’s capacity.

“Nothing has yet happened that can make one say with certainty that a pub is going to take place. There are many systems in place from the IEC as well as outside organisations.”

Concerns about electronic capacity, observers

Two things Eloff does worry about are the IEC’s electronic capacity, and partisan volunteers tasked with helping out at polling stations.

It is understood that voter lists are not available electronically. This means that more than 27 million names are only available in hard copy at certain polling stations or offices, which makes proper control over them very difficult.

“It seems that the IEC’s electronic capacity is not yet where it should be.

“It’s an impossible task – whether you’re an individual or a party – if a voter list isn’t available electronically to study, sample and test.”

Second, Eloff says some volunteers may be biased at certain polling stations.

He refers in particular to polling stations that are set up at schools and where teachers from those schools are then asked to help as volunteers on voting day.

“Many of these teachers are members of the South African Democratic Education Union (Sadou), which is an alliance member of the ANC. It could potentially pose a risk or cause problems, and people question their impartiality.”

Eloff hopes that in the future South Africa will also move towards transparent ballot boxes so that one can see exactly what goes into each ballot box.

The run-up to the election is also important

However, voting day itself and the counting of votes is only one of the important components of the election.

Mulder says the run-up – or races – to the election, which takes place in just under three months, is also important.

“We have three months time. It’s like a 400 meter race, where we now come around the corner and have to sprint for the finish line,” he joked.

“It might get rough. By the nature of the matter, the important thing is that the election takes place under peaceful conditions, where parties and independent candidates have the opportunity to state their positions so that voters can make judicious decisions.

“There are all kinds of codes of conduct that political parties have to sign at the IEC about how campaigns will be conducted, including without violence and intimidation. If they fail, a complaint can be lodged with the IEC.”