September 23, 2020

How the 2019 election was saved

Big changes in electoral law are on the cards after the allegations around double-voting were made in the general election in May this year. JAN-JAN JOUBERT looks back on the drama that played out largely behind the scenes at the election results centre in Pretoria in the days immediately following the May 8 election.

It is alleged that veteran political leaders across party lines seized the reins and saved the process, as the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) denied that there was a problem in the form of voters voting more than once. There were public reports of supposedly indelible ink that proved to be not indelible at all and of an absence of checks on ID books or ID cards confirming whether people had already voted.

Although some small, unsuccessful parties who failed to win seats wanted to take the IEC to court for voting irregularities, in the end they lacked the resources to pursue the matter in court.

'We are not satisfied with the steps that were taken to prevent double voting. The guilty must be brought to book.'

Representatives of larger, more successful parties confirmed that there was no appetite amongst the larger parties to hold a fresh election, but that the feeling persisted that the system needed to change swiftly and drastically because if the election outcome – and, specifically, the IEC ability to conduct an effective election – were to lose credibility, the results and the pursuant democratic mandate would risk being compromised.

“We are not satisfied with the steps that were taken to prevent double voting. The guilty must be brought to book. We cannot allow that an institution like the IEC travels the road of the South African Revenue Service or the National Prosecuting Authority, where faith in the institutions were undermined by poor management and incompetence,” ANC spokesperson Dakota Legote said on public radio station RSG.

Enquiries to several central roleplayers behind the scenes at the election results centre in Pretoria revealed a saga of hard work behind the scenes by political veterans from several parties to keep the election on track facing massive political pressure as evidence of double voting mounted.

“This election was saved by the political parties. The election was successful despite the IEC, not because of it,” explained Jo-Anne Downs, who has represented the ACDP on the IEC’s multi-party liaison committee for many years.

Roleplayers on the committee, which consists of senior representatives of political parties, met behind closed doors at the election results centre to solve problems as they occurred, with Downs, the ANC’s Beatie Hofmeyr, the DA’s Mike Moriarty and several representatives of the IFP and EFF taking the lead in calming jumpy and at times aggressive party leadership figures in their own and other political parties. They stared down a public renunciation of the voting process by significant parties, avoiding the resultant effect that could have had on the value of the national currency, investor confidence and the economy as a whole.  

At one stage the EFF publically accused the IEC and the ANC that they were stealing the election for the governing party, but in the end they let it lie.

“We realise that things went awry, but we need to put the country and the economy first. We will focus on improving the system for the future rather than upsetting the apple cart,” said an EFF source.

“We have no wish to derail the process or harm the country, but the inability of the IEC to even admit to the extent of the problem forced us to ascertain the extent in order to decide whether the election results should be challenged,” said the chairman of the DA’s federal executive, James Selfe.

Polling stations in the DA heartland, including the Cape Town City Bowl, Llandudno, Sea Point, Somerset West and Durbanville, ran out up to thrice on election day, despite normal voter volumes.

The day after the election, much pressure was exerted, especially from the leadership of the DA and IFP, to call the election into question and a legal team was ready to go to court, but in the end cool heads prevailed.

The political parties agreed unanimously to force the IEC for the first time in South African history to do a representative audit of the results. This was done by Statistics South Africa, and it found that while irregularities like double voting took place, the extent was not enough to sway the result of the election.

“The IEC, parliament and government now has five years before the next general election to change the system to prevent double voting. A way must be found to scan ID books and ID cards [to ensure they] can be monitored nationally. It is not that hard. Also, we cannot allow people to vote outside their voting districts,” a source in the Presidency said at the time.

Last modified on Sunday, 18 August 2019 18:09

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Notes from the House is an independent online publication that tracks and monitors Parliament’s role in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to improve the lives of South African citizens. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

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