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Election 2024 what-ifs and what-nows – black pens, violence and the secrecy of special votes

Election 2024 what-ifs and what-nows – black pens, violence and the secrecy of special votes
An IEC official assists an elderly special voter Rose Mkhwanazi to cast her ballot papers in Tembisa Johannesburg on 27 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

With voting having kicked off domestically on Monday, myths, misinformation and some realistic concerns are swirling around our online space. We take a look at some of the claims doing the rounds.

I voted early with a special vote, but I’m worried about the envelope system violating the secrecy of my vote.

A number of people have raised concerns about special voting because of a slightly confusing process that sees people deposit their ballots in an envelope-in-an-envelope, with the external envelope marked with their ID numbers.

Don’t stress, says the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC): it’s been like this for previous elections. People casting their ballots via a special vote do use a double envelope system – the same system used by individuals casting their votes overseas. The actual ballot paper is placed in an unmarked envelope which is then deposited in a second external envelope marked with the voter’s details. But the inner envelope is removed and placed into a ballot box separately – “to de-link the marked ballot from the details of the voter on the outer envelope”, says the IEC.

The purpose of the outer envelope is to make sure that nobody voted early who was not registered for a special vote.

“Once we’ve done that verification, the outer envelope is removed and discarded,” IEC deputy CEO Masego Sheburi said in a press briefing on Monday afternoon.

I keep hearing rumours about potential violence around elections. What’s the story there?

Several organisations have released internal memos which warn about possible protests around the elections: among them, the FirstRand financial services group and the security company Fidelity.

FirstRand’s memo pointed to KwaZulu-Natal as a possible risk area due to support for former president Jacob Zuma and his MK party, which has been embroiled in a succession of legal scuffles leading up to the poll.

Although police last week warned the public against “making or distributing inflammatory statements that have a potential of creating a state of panic in communities”, a leaked memo from the KZN police commissioner’s office seems to confirm that the SAPS is braced for “possible nationwide uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) protest action”, which is “anticipated to take place nationwide during the months of May and June 2024”.

Police have refused to discuss the memo, saying they don’t comment on internal documents.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS), however, has said it is unlikely that the polls will “result in widespread public violence”.

“The Institute for Security Studies’ Protest and Public Violence Monitor typically picks up a small number of protests during campaigning and on voting day by disgruntled communities, usually regarding service delivery failures,” it said.

While noting that the closeness of the likely election result may give rise to heightened risk, the ISS suggests that a return to the violence seen during the July 2021 riots is unlikely because, among other factors, “police and private security have since improved communication and coordination”.

The country’s security chiefs, appearing at a Monday briefing by the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, said they would take a zero-tolerance approach, including to anyone trying to incite violence online.

Do I have to bring my own black ballpoint pen to the ballot box?

No. This is hogwash. There is a Facebook message from someone’s aunty doing the rounds claiming that the IEC-provided pens contain evaporating ink, which then allows anyone to re-mark your ballot with any vote they want.

It’s nonsense, as the IEC has confirmed and AfricaCheck has reported. Pens containing normal, non-evaporating ink will be provided for voters to use.  

The MK party says it found a bunch of ballot papers pre-marked with votes.

The MK party has circulated videos claiming that its supporters found ballot papers already marked with votes at an IEC warehouse at Hammarsdale, western Durban.

The IEC’s Sheburi told the SABC that this “can’t be further from the truth”, and that the ballot papers were only marked with the “details of the voting stations”.

At Monday’s IEC briefing, deputy CEO Mawethu Mosery added that the IEC has met with MK leadership in KZN to establish the “basic rules of engagement” with regard to the IEC’s work. 

He said that criminal charges as a result of this disruption to the IEC processes were not being ruled out.

There were rumours that some voting stations couldn’t process special voting on Monday because they didn’t have the necessary ballot papers or envelopes.

The IEC denied this on Monday, saying all voting stations nationally were equipped with adequate supplies of ballot papers and stationery. However, a few stations had to open later than 9am because the delivery of said supplies was delayed.

What about the places where voting couldn’t take place on Monday because of protest action or taxi strikes?

Disruption to special voting on Monday was reported in spots across the country, from Orange Farm in Johannesburg to Mthatha in the Eastern Cape.

The IEC’s Sheburi said on Monday that, in total, 107 voting stations could not operate as they were supposed to, but voting proceeded as normal at 22,000 other stations.

Mosery said the IEC would indicate at a future briefing whether it was possible to organise replacement voting.

Concerning Mthatha, he said: “We will do everything humanly possible to extend the [voting] right to these people without causing risk to our staff.”

Doesn’t it seem like the IEC is facing greater challenges this year – between the MK party’s shenanigans, the protest action and the logistical difficulties of three ballots?

Not according to the IEC. About the disruptions to special voting on Monday, Sheburi said: “Reports of difficulties are insignificant in the greater scheme.” DM

Election misinformation tips:

    • If it sounds too good, shocking or unlikely to be true, question it, pause and make sure you verify the information before you share it.
    • If it triggers your emotions, if it makes you angry, or scared, or if it gives you hope, then pause, reflect and verify before you share it.
    • If information is shared and looks like it’s going viral, look at credible news sources to verify the information.
    • Ask yourself: who is the source of the information?
    • With AI-generated images, look at details such as fingers, ears, backgrounds and patterns, because artificial intelligence often doesn’t get all the details right.
    • Verify information on reputable sites, such as the IEC website or fact-checking websites. Report fake news on the Real411 platform.
    • Another online tool, snopes.com, can also be used to verify articles.
    • Always check the text for grammatical and spelling errors, as these are often dead giveaways that the information you are consuming is not factual.

Gallery

Daily Maverick has closed comments on all elections articles for the next two weeks. While we do everything in our power to ensure deliberately false, misleading and hateful commentary does not get published on our site, it’s simply not possible for our small team to have sight of every comment. Given the political dynamics of the moment, we cannot risk malignant actors abusing our platform to manipulate and mislead others. We remain committed to providing you with a platform for dynamic conversation and exchange and trust that you understand our need for circumspection at this sensitive time for our country.

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