South Africa


Three ballot papers will be a first for democratic South Africa during next year’s general polls

Three ballot papers will be a first for democratic South Africa during next year’s general polls
A voter and an Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) official at a polling station in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, South Africa, 7 May 2014. (Photo: EPA / Cornell Tukiri)

The South African electorate is approaching its seventh democratic national election in 2024, one which is being touted as a watershed moment. This election is expected to be tightly contested as the IEC grapples with legislative changes, including three ballot papers, a first for SA.

The country’s next general election is likely to take place within 12 months. Preparations for the provincial and national elections by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) are underway, with some legislative changes giving the commission a headache. 

For the first time in South Africa’s (SA) history, independent candidates will be allowed to contest individually. This was made possible by the Electoral Amendment Act that became a law in June 2023, and is already being challenged in court.

What makes independent candidates eligible?

To be eligible to contest the elections, independent candidates need to garner thousands of signatures and to pay a deposit to the commission. For instance, to contest a regional election, the IEC has proposed that independents pay a deposit of R20,000 per province they intend to contest. Political parties will have to pay a proposed fee of R300,000 that covers all nine provinces.    

An independent person may be nominated to contest in one or more regions, but may only be elected to one seat of the National Assembly (NA).   

The NA is made up of 400 seats that are occupied by different political parties. Following the 2024 elections, the seats will be broken into half and allocated through a proportional system. 

This means 200 seats will be reserved for the national list (contested only by all political parties), and the remaining 200 will be divided among the nine regions (contested by parties and independents).  

The Electoral Laws Amendment Act stipulates that where an independent candidate qualifies for more than one seat in a region in the provisional allocation, such independents forfeit the additional seat/s, according to IEC deputy chief electoral officer Masego Sheburi.   

Following the forfeiture, the excess votes would be shared across political parties. Probed on the constitutionality and fairness of the system that is currently before court, Sheburi was of the belief that there was nothing untoward or biased.    

Should the courts rule in favour of those seeking to challenge aspects of the legislation, this would negatively affect how the commission prepares for the elections and possibly holding the elections at a later stage. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa’s proposed new electoral system is complex to understand, complicated to implement and less fair 

Have we always had three ballots?

No. In addition to the proposed fees, voters will for the first time since 1994 have to use three instead of two ballot papers to cast their votes on a date yet to be determined by President Cyril Ramaphosa.      

Previously we used a two-column ballot 

In the 2019 elections, only 48 of more than 500 registered political parties made it to the ballot paper. It is inevitable that the number will increase, following the formation of several new parties and independents.  

If this is indeed the case, the commission’s Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo said it will no longer be “practical” to continue using one-column ballot paper, as has always been the case with provincial and national elections since 1994, but they will be “forced” to opt for a two-column ballot.   

“Should the contestants, both independents and political parties go beyond 96, then we will have to go for a multiple-page ballot,” Mamabolo told journalists during a media training session this week, ahead of the elections.   

More ballots needing printing, less time 

Not only will the commission have to grapple with the structure of the ballot, but the printing process. During the 2019 elections, the commission printed approximately 70 million ballot papers. With more political parties likely to be in the ballot and the inclusion of independents, IEC anticipates that it will have to print 35 million more in this election. 

“On this occasion we are likely to be printing 105 million ballot papers”, said Mamabolo, while giving a “conservative” estimate. These ballots will have to be printed timeously, a new complexity for the commission. 

“We do not currently know how many political parties are going to be contesting, neither do we know how many independents are going to be contesting. In 2019, we had 48 parties on the ballot, of that only 14 managed to secure seats in the national assembly…”   

… likely resulting in delayed results

While IEC ordinarily takes three days instead of the seven stipulated by the Constitution, to count and declare results of national elections, it anticipates that it will take longer than the customary three days in 2024, due to the parties and independent candidates expected to contest. 

“The longer the ballot is, the longer it is going to take to count the votes and declare the results,” said Mamabolo.   

Introducing a new results system  

The legislative changes have also necessitated the re-coding of a new results system that will be able to accommodate independents, assist with the calculation of quotas, filling of mid-term vacancies, etcetera, among other things. 

“We anticipate that we will conclude the coding of a completely new results system by the end of the year, then we will get to a phase of auditing that. We will also be getting an independent auditor to come audit the results system and issue an independent audit report, which we will furnish to participating parties,” the commission said.     

Mamabolo revealed that an opportunity would be made for political parties to bring their own auditors to audit the result system, in order for them to establish their own comfort levels.  

 Another significant legislative change is that “Section 24A application is no longer available at the voting station on voting day (Pre-notification by date in Election Timetable indicating a specific voting station at which voter intends to vote)”. 

“Voters abroad do not need to inform the CEO of their intention to vote in the registration segment of registration.”  

Despite several complexities the commission will have to grapple with ahead of the elections, including legal challenges, it does not foresee any financial challenges as it says it is “adequately funded for the work we need to do”, according to Sheburi. DM


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