South Africa, Politics

ConCourt papers: IEC asks for grace period until 2020

By Marianne Merten 12 April 2016

The Independent Electoral Commission decided to postpone the Tlokwe by-elections of February 2016, and others across South Africa, so it could turn to the Constitutional Court for clarification on the prickly address issue. In its court papers, it effectively is asking for business as usual for the upcoming 3 August 2016 municipal poll and the 2019 national and provincial elections. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) wants the Constitutional Court to order that it does not have to provide addresses for registered voters before June 2020, according to its court papers. On 30 November 2015 the Constitutional Court ruled voters must have sufficiently verifiable addresses against their names on the voters’ roll in a unanimous judgment setting aside the Tlokwe by-elections as not free and fair.

The IEC now wants the Constitutional Court to find that it “is not obliged to be in possession of addresses for those voters who have been registered in a particular voting district prior to 30 November 2015”, unless a voter has moved since then. And the IEC wants the court to find it “must take reasonable measures by 30 June 2020 to obtain addresses…” Thus the first election with an address system in place would be the 2021 local government elections.

The upcoming local government elections would be at risk if the commission did not obtain this relief, says IEC Chief Electoral Officer Mosotho Moepya in his founding affidavit. It would take the commission at least until November 2019 to fix the issue of about 16.2-million missing and/or incomplete addresses on the voters’ roll.

South Africa has no official database of addresses,” says Moepya, adding that multiple address lists of state and private sector entities were “not consistent” with each other and, in fact, were “unreliable”. In addition, it would be difficult to ask the affected voters to come forward as the commission did not have contact details like telephone numbers. While voter registration weekends – each costing R225-million – brought voters to check their details, the numbers fell far short.

As of 31 December 2015, according to the IEC court papers, 7,857,156 registered voters have no addresses against their name, 8,314,822 registered voters have generic or incomplete addresses and 286,373 have post box addresses. A total of 8,468,119 voters are registered with “complete conventional addresses”.

These figures predate the two recent voter registration drives which boosted the number of registered voters to just over 26-million, according to the IEC on Tuesday.

The reality is that the vast majority of these voters without addresses recorded on the voters’ roll have been registered in their current voting districts for more than four years, with many having been registered in their current voting districts for as long as 15 years,” Moepya says.

Before 1998 there was no voters’ roll; anyone with some form of identification could vote in 1994. Since 1998 the voter registration regulations required IEC officials to be satisfied a voter lives in the correct ward – the REC1 form created then, and still in force, has a section for an address – but it was not necessary to capture details of addresses.

This is because there was no legal obligation on the IEC to do so,” Moepya says. The Electoral Act was amended in 2003, in the run-up to the 2004 elections, when the new Section 16(3) requiring addresses being made available to political parties was introduced.

The fact that a given voter did not have his or her address captured completely or at all on the IEC system did not mean that the voter had been registered in an incorrect voting district or that there was any reason to doubt the correctness of the registration,” says Moepya. “As I have emphasised, the IEC always had to be satisfied that the person was ordinarily resident in the voting district concerned.”

The IEC has not focused on capturing full addresses as “until recently there had been very few requests made by political parties”. Such requests were a sign of increasingly contested polls.

The IEC appeal is set to be heard on 9 May, with the ministers of co-operative governance and home affairs also having joined the case. There are 101 days to go to this year’s municipal poll, and early June is the deadline to finalise the voters’ roll. It will be tight, regardless of how the court rules. And the IEC will remain under scrutiny. DM

Photo: Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) voting officials prepare a voting station for some of the millions of South Africans to vote in the early morning light at a church in the poor slum of Alexandra Township for the local elections, Johannesburg, South Africa, 18 May 2011. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

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