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Electoral commission hints that local government elections may be delayed due to Covid-19

The IEC is still considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the upcoming local government elections, chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo told parliament on Monday.
The IEC is still considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the upcoming local government elections, chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo told parliament on Monday.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has hinted that next year's local government elections may be delayed due to Covid-19.

Chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo told a meeting of parliament’s home affairs portfolio committee on Monday that the commission was still considering the impact of the pandemic on the upcoming elections, adding that there were certain consultations that are required before it could come to a definitive position.

At the moment, he said, there were indications that some of its partners were experiencing delays that would have an impact on when those elections might be.

The Municipal Demarcation Board has also halted a public consultation process over the determination of municipal ward boundaries. The board is required by law to conduct a process of ward delimitation, which is a fresh consideration of wards taking into account the movement of voters within wards.

Mamabolo said that while the demarcation board launched the municipal demarcation process in January, it has indicated to the IEC that due to Covid-19 they had to stop the community consultation process after covering four of the country's nine provinces.

“This means the agreed date for them to hand over the final wards are no longer realisable and they will not be able to hand over the final wards as initially agreed,” said Mamabolo.

He said the electoral commission has requested consultations with the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to deliberate on the implication of that delay on the electoral process in its entirety.

The commission has, however, been able to source physical addresses of 89% of voters, making progress with the requirements of a Constitutional Court ruling on the voters' roll.

In 2016, the court declared that the commission’s failure to obtain and record all reasonably available voters’ addresses on the national voters’ roll was inconsistent with its obligations in the constitution and invalid.

It suspended the declaration of invalidity until June 2018 and ordered that the commission must have corrected its failures by that date by obtaining and recording all addresses that were reasonably available.

It later extended the suspension of the declaration of invalidity until the end of November 2019.

“We are happy to report that as regards to the complete addresses – a house number, street name, village number and so on - we now have 89% of what one could refer to as a complete address of all voters who are on the voters' roll,” said Mamabolo on Monday.

He said at the time they were before the ConCourt in 2016, they had 8.6 million complete addresses in the system. That number has now increased to 23.4 million.

Critically, the commission has to link those 23.4 million addresses to geo-locational coordinates and then check that each address is in the correct ward count before the elections.

“We have to make sure every address locates the voter in the correct vote segment. That is a mammoth task,” said Mamabolo, quickly adding that they were equal to the task.

A voter's address is much more critical in a local government election because the election is geographic based.

For those voters who do not have addresses, the commission said it has caused a legislative amendment to be enacted to say people without an address will not have their rights to vote taken away but they will be allowed to vote with the details they bring to voting stations.

Responding to an MP's question as to whether electronic voting in 2021 was too ambitious, Mamabolo said this was a matter within their horizon.

Without elaborating, he said research had been in the past and that they are in discussions with the Treasury to see if there could be some funding allocation to assist them with a pilot.