South Africa


No mask, no vote: Strict Covid-19 protocols in place at voter stations

A general view of political posters on November 04, 2020 in Lenasia, Gauteng. (Photo by Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi)

The Independent Electoral Commission has put in place health and safety measures for the 107 by-elections that take place on Wednesday. More than half a million voters will need to observe physical distancing and wear their masks - and, preferably bring their own pens to the voting stations.

This week South Africa will have its first by-elections since the Covid-19 lockdown, with the Independent Electoral Commission reporting on Monday that it had spent R3-million on PPE for Wednesday’s polls.

“This is the first by-election we’re having under Covid-19… unfortunately, it won’t be the last and this is a test for the future,” said Sy Mamabolo, the IEC’s chief electoral officer.

In these by-elections, 107 seats are up for grabs in 95 wards. Over 440 candidates from 40 political parties are set to contest the poll.  

On Super Wednesday, every province will host at least four by-elections, with parties vying for control of 12 municipalities. 

Over 600,000 people will be voting in these by-elections. 

Voters are expected to observe physical distancing and wear their masks in the queues as well as inside the polling stations.

“We’re going to experience a situation where queues look longer than they normally are [because of physical distancing]… that is not an indicator of inefficiency on our part,” said Mamabolo. 

Voters have also been asked to bring their own pens to the voting stations. However, there will be pens available for those who don’t have one. The pens will be sanitised after each use. 

Everyone will also have their hands sanitised when they enter and exit the voting stations. 

This time around, cotton buds will be dipped into the indelible ink and placed on the voter’s fingers. 

Voting hours will be from 9am to 11pm, except in the Eastern Cape’s Nyandeni, Mbashe and Mhlontlo municipalities, where voting stations will be open from 7am to 7pm. 

“This is because historically we’ve seen less electoral activity after 7pm,” said Mamabolo.

In order to adhere to Covid-19 health and safety protocols, the IEC has procured 10,000 physical distancing markers, 1,150 bottles of sanitiser, 3,000 face shields for staff, as well as 1,300 litres of sanitising solutions, said Mamabolo.

All of these had to be procured in the context of many institutions having their budget cuts, said Mamabolo. 

“We’ve had to adjust our plans but the [Independent Electoral] Commission is planning on speaking to the Ministry of Finance to keep funding us so that we can operate at our optimal level so that our mandate isn’t impaired,” said Mamabolo.

Mamabolo also said the IEC “would’ve loved to have a pilot in some wards to gather insights regarding what works and what doesn’t”, but that wasn’t possible due to budget constraints.

About 23,000 voters have been approved to cast special votes. Special votes are available via home visits to voters who are unable to travel to voting stations due to pregnancy, infirmity or disability.

According to the IEC website, the deadline to apply for a special vote was 30 October. However, voters who are unable to vote on 11 November due to absence from their voting district may also apply to cast a special vote the day before the by-election.

Mamabolo said these by-elections “will be a template for holding free and fair elections” when the 2021 local government elections take place. DM

Look out for previews of all the provinces – and more – that have been published in Daily Maverick in the buildup to Super Wednesday.



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