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Election 2024 what-ifs and what-nows: Voting at different stations, vanishing thumb ink and docking ANC votes

Election 2024 what-ifs and what-nows: Voting at different stations, vanishing thumb ink and docking ANC votes
An IEC official marks Emma Dumisa Phiri’s finger during the special vote in Tembisa Johannesburg on 27 May 2024.(Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Special voting continued in South Africa’s elections on Tuesday, while general voting takes place only on Wednesday. Myths, misinformation and legitimate confusion continue to circulate. We answer a few burning election-related questions.

Can I vote, at least nationally, at a different station to the one I’m registered at?

This is possibly the most important message to spread this election because the system has changed from previous years. In the past, it was possible to rock up at any voting station in the country and cast your vote on the national ballot; just not the provincial ballot.

This year, it’s different. 

You cannot cast any votes whatsoever, except at the voting station where you are registered – unless you made a special Section 24(a) application between March and May this year to inform the IEC that you wanted to vote in a different location.

Several commentators have expressed concern about whether this is sufficiently widely known, with former DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko posting on X that the issue was “giving me chest pains”.

Elections analyst Dawie Scholtz has pointed out that only around 300,000 people have applied under Section 24(a) for this election, whereas around 1.6 million people voted outside their registered voting district in 2019 under the previous arrangement.

At an IEC briefing on Tuesday evening, IEC CEO Sy Mamabolo assured the public that this measure “is not intended to be a gratuitous interference” with people’s right to vote.

Rather, it is an “important control measure which we need to safeguard the integrity of the process”, given that in the 2019 elections, allegations of double voting “abounded”.

What happens if someone who applied for a special vote failed to vote during the special vote period? Can they still vote during the general elections on 29 May 29?

Yes, as long as they are still doing so at the voting station where they are registered.

In some cases involving the elderly, infirm or people with disabilities, an arrangement may have been made for IEC representatives to do a home visit to capture votes during the special vote period.

But, importantly, if the IEC came to your home for you to cast your special vote and you weren’t there for whatever reason, they’re not coming back. If able to, you will need to go to a polling station with everyone else on Wednesday.

I’ve lost my ID book or Smartcard ID. Can I vote with my passport or driver’s licence?

No. You can only vote using an ID book, a Smartcard ID or a temporary ID certificate. Home Affairs offices will be open on Wednesday between 7am and 9pm to facilitate the collection of these documents if necessary.

Which ballot paper vote decides who runs my province?

The pink, third ballot is the provincial ballot. This determines who gets sent to the provincial legislature, and you can choose between political parties and independent candidates – if there are any in your province running for the provincial legislature.

The blue, first ballot is the “national compensatory” ballot, which features only political parties in the running for Parliament.

The orange, second ballot is the “national regional” ballot that had to be introduced this election to accommodate the fact that independent candidates can run for election for the first time. This is where you vote for either independent candidates or political parties to be sent to Parliament.

I’ve read that the DA is going to court to ask for 1% of the ANC’s votes to be docked. Is this legally possible?

It’s a pretty bold move on the part of the DA but, yes, the DA has approached the Electoral Court to complain about the fact that President Cyril Ramaphosa used state machinery – the Presidency and the SABC – to essentially give a last-ditch campaign speech for the ANC on Sunday night. (This is indisputably irregular.)

The DA has asked the Electoral Court to find that, in so doing, the ANC breached the Electoral Code of Conduct. By way of remedy, the DA wants Ramaphosa fined R200,000 and the ANC to lose 1% of its total votes once counting is complete.

As wild as this might sound, the Electoral Act does allow for this kind of thing to happen. Section 96(2) stipulates that if the Electoral Court finds that a party violated the Code, it can impose an order “reducing the number of votes cast in favour of that person or party”.

This has, however, never happened in the history of democratic South Africa, and it’s safe to say it’s probably not going to happen here either.  

Can I take a selfie with my ballot paper?

This is strictly prohibited. The IEC’s Mamabolo reminded the public on Tuesday to protect the secrecy of voting choices.

What happens if it rains on election day?

Voting will continue. Mamabolo said that forecasts suggest “fairly good weather” across the country, but that “necessary steps have been taken to manage the effects of inclement weather”.

I’ve heard that the indelible ink with which thumbs are marked rubs off really easily. Isn’t this a problem, since it potentially allows people to vote twice?

“Our assessment of the issue is that it’s holding well,” Mamabolo said.

He added that the additional measures put in place – mainly that you can no longer vote at a different station than the one you’re registered at – should prevent the possibility of anyone wiping off the ink on their thumbs and voting again at a different place. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

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