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IEC shelves plans for electronic voting

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The IEC said that it has had to shelve plans to pilot electronic voting during by-elections in the next few months due to a lack of funding

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THE Electoral Commission of South Africa said that it has had to shelve plans to pilot electronic voting during by-elections in the next few months due to a lack of funding resulting from the perilous state of the country’s public finances.

The IEC held a webinar on Wednesday in collaboration with the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) to discuss the electoral democracy environment in South Africa, preparations for the 2021 local government elections and the progress of the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill.

Sy Mamabolo, the commission’s chief executive, revealed that the commission had envisaged using by-elections in certain districts around the country to pilot electronic voting to garner experience from the exercise before rolling out the project countrywide for the 2024 national and provincial elections.

It was revealed by the commission’s leadership that 96 by-elections had to be postponed by the Electoral Court, at the commission’s request, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The move had enjoyed the support of political parties as the primary concern had been the optimum protection of human life and adherence to the imposition of lockdown regulations meant to restrict the movement of citizens, the commission’s chairperson, Glen Mashinini said.

Mashinini said that they intended to clear the by-elections backlog between now and February 2021 in order to comply with Section 25 of the Municipal Structures Act, which stipulates that by-elections may not be held six months before general municipal elections.

Mamabolo said that the IEC had intended to hold a pilot run of electronic voting in the by-elections in certain districts so that it could use the experience from that pilot to plan for a roll-out in 2024, however the submission for funding has not yielded a positive outcome.

“Therefore even the possibility of a pilot at this stage, given the perilous state of public finances, appears not possible,” Mamabolo said.

He said that amongst some of the commission’s ideas, was that of having electronic voting machines which operate at voting stations.

“For this there is going to be a huge public investment required to purchase all these machines in sufficient quantity because you can’t just have one machine at the voting station, you need to have multiple streams to be able to allow for queues to move without creating frustration.

“Those are some of the things that are emerging from the research that we are doing but, as to when will South Africa have the money to make this investment, we frankly don’t know. But, the commission itself is keen to engage the subject matter in a serious way,” Mamabolo.