Defend Truth


More voter education urgently needed on three-ballot system


Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African ambassador to Ireland.

The IEC must embark on extensive voter education in the next few weeks so that there will be a clear understanding of the new system and to prevent voters from spoiling their precious votes.

On 29 May, voters at 22,296 voting stations will each receive three ballot papers. This is different from before and I have encountered a huge amount of confusion about this change. With a shrinking budget, it seems that the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) can carry out only limited voter education, so unless political parties start doing their bit, we might see many spoilt ballots.

Before the 1994 election, there were major concerns about voter literacy. Given that for the majority of voters, it was their first opportunity to vote, many wondered what would happen. In particular, they feared that a large number of spoilt ballots would raise questions about the legitimacy of the election outcome.

The Electoral Commission, with political parties, made a huge effort to educate voters with banners, TV and radio advertisements, sample ballot papers and workshops. All party candidates were sent out with instructions to not only promote their parties, but to also explain the voting process.

It paid off. 

Of the almost 20 million people who voted in South Africa’s first democratic election, just under 200,000 (1%) cast ballots that were spoilt or rendered invalid.

Subsequent elections saw similar outcomes, with the number of spoilt ballots never exceeding 1.5% of the total votes in national and provincial elections. 

Following the ruling of the Constitutional Court in 2020 that independent candidates must also be allowed to contest elections at provincial and national levels, political parties agreed on changes to the Electoral Act, which resulted in a three-ballot system — two for the National Assembly and one for the provincial legislatures.

The first ballot for the National Assembly will have the names of the 52 registered political parties on it and will be identical throughout the country. The list will be topped by the Alliance of Citizens for Change (ACC), followed by the other parties in alphabetical order.

You might wonder, why the ACC? To be fair and prevent all parties from giving themselves a name starting with the letter A, the IEC draws the name of a party out of a hat. That party then tops the ballot and the other parties follow alphabetically. In 1994, for example, the PAC was at the top, followed by the Vryheidsfront, the Women’s Rights Peace Party, the Ximoko Progressive Party and the African Muslim Party. (Whatever happened to all of them?)

The ballots

So, Ballot One should be familiar to most of us and shouldn’t be too complicated. 

The second ballot for the National Assembly is called the Regional Ballot Paper and will look different in every province — with parties and, in some provinces, independent candidates on it. 

The third ballot will be for the provincial legislatures. As in the case of the regional ballot, the provincial ballot papers will differ from province to province and have political parties as well as, in some provinces, independent candidates. 

So, all in all, there will be 19 different ballot papers throughout the country. One for the National Assembly, which will look the same throughout the country, as well as nine regional ballots for the National Assembly and nine for the provincial legislatures.

Ironically, or perhaps sadly, only 10 independent candidates appear on the ballots. Diamond dealer and close friend of Jacob Zuma, Louis Liebenberg, is standing in four provinces on the regional ballot, despite the final liquidation order against his company Tariomix.  However, if he is declared bankrupt before the election, he will constitutionally not be eligible to stand.  

There are another seven independent candidates on the regional lists (for the National Assembly) and six (two in Gauteng, one in KZN, two in Limpopo and one in the Free State) on the lists for the provincial legislatures. However, one of the candidates, Lovemore Ndou, is contesting for both a seat in the National Assembly and the Limpopo provincial legislature.


On a positive note: the three-ballot system is an excellent opportunity for people to use their votes creatively, by splitting it between parties and/or independent candidates. For example, the recent SRF opinion poll indicated that Mmusi Maimane’s Bosa had 7% support in KwaZulu-Natal on the regional lists for the National Assembly, while not registering above 2% anywhere else. Equally, Rise Mzansi had 4% support on the regional list in Gauteng. 

However, the three-ballot system can be confusing for voters and it is in the interest of political parties to educate their supporters on the changes. The only problem is that they will most likely stick with a narrative of “just vote for us on all three ballots”. 

So, despite financial pressure, it is important that the IEC embarks on extensive voter education in the next few weeks so that there will be a clear understanding of the new system and to prevent voters from spoiling their precious votes. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Peter Johnston says:

    You don’t really explain the point of the second ballot. It doesn’t make sense if it’s for the national assembly as well?

    • Skinyela Skinyela says:

      The first ballot paper is for contesting the first 200 seats that are ring-fenced for PR, because section 46(1)(d) of the constitution says that the outcome must results, general, in proportional representation.

  • Francois Smith says:

    We certainly hope that the ANC led government’s cutting of the IEC budget whilst increasing blue light protection will have poetic justice in that the ANC voters are the majority who spoils their vote. ANC voters, you do not like Steenhuizen for obvious reasons: Make a big cross after his name to mark him wrong.

    • Chris Brand says:

      Francois, I think you should sponsor 40 million educational voter pamphlets stating your: “ANC voters, you do not like Steenhuizen for obvious reasons: Make a big cross after his name to mark him wrong.” and distribute widely, especially in rural areas. ‘ Nuff said.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    What voter literacy…..

  • Joe Soap says:

    “political parties agreed on changes to the Electoral Act, ” – this is not true. Not all political parties supported the act which failed to take into account the majority decision at committee level which proposed a mixture of proportional representation and constituency based representation – the act pushec through by an ANC majority supporting the minority decision at committee level.

    • Skinyela Skinyela says:

      Unless if such mixture was going to be 50/50, it would have required a constitutional amendment.

      Section 57(2)(b) and subsection 3 says that municipalities can adopt a mixture of PR and constituency(ward) system, but must generally result in proportional representation… Meaning that at least 50% of the seats must be PR seats.

      Section 46(1)(d) also says the same about the system being proportional representation in general. Meaning that you can have more PR seats than constituency ones, but you can’t have more constituency seats than PR ones.

  • Pieter Onderwater says:

    It is still not clear. Will the national parties also be on the second ballot? If yes, the independent candidates will only receive half the votes and seats. If not, the ANC (and/or other parties) will never have 50% and a coalition with regional parties / independent candidates will be required.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Many people are not getting what the three ballots mean.

    The regional ballot is for who gets into provincial legislature.

    One national is for 200 of the 400 seats in parliament.

    The other 200 seats in Parliament are split per province in advance. The third ballot is for who gets your province’s allocated however many seats.

    • Skinyela Skinyela says:

      I always wonder why representation in the senate(NCOP) is not based on the population of the provinces.

      All provinces get the same number of seats in the NCOP, ten per province.

      Whereas if you look at the regional-to-national seats allocation, the 200 seats that are contested by both the parties and independent candidates, each province is allocated a number of seats according to the size of the population of that province.

  • Peter Sporides says:

    The Regional Ballot is still confusing. Isn’t our system based on proportional representation in any event? If people/parties voted for on the 2nd ballot get sent to the NA, isn’t that a duplication of the first ballot? What’s point of it? The article doesn’t explain

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