IEC puts election transparency measures in place

2009-03-11 00:00

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has put a range of measures in place to ensure transparency in the forthcoming elections.

These measures include strengthening the role of party liaison committees (PLCs) and party agents present at voting stations on voting day.

PLCs are party representatives who have been meeting regularly with the IEC in the build-up to the election to ensure that they are satisfied with preparations.

IEC chairwoman Brigalia Bam and deputy chief electoral officer, Norman du Plessis, outlined some of the changes.

Political parties are involved in determining the boundaries of the voting district.

Many previous complaints from parties were over suspicions that presiding officers (POs) were not impartial and favoured a particular party.

To counter this, the IEC first ensures that every presiding officer does not hold a position in a party, union or organisation that is in alliance with a particular political party.

PLCs then have a chance to vet the POs. Bam said the IEC’s aim is to have all political parties comfortable with the presiding officer.

“In the future we will be following the pattern of other countries where the PO will undergo formal training, hold qualifications and be regarded as a professional,” she said.

Du Plessis said the 2009 elections will be different from previous pools, in which the party agents observed from a distance.

“We have amended the legislation so they can interact with the voters — they can compare a person’s face with the photograph in their ID book, check if their names are on the voters’ roll,” he said.

The voters’ roll with close to 24 million names will be available electronically at all voting stations.

Both voting and counting will be done at the voting stations. The ballot boxes cannot be removed from the voting station.

Political parties are present when the ballot boxes are sealed; through their party agents they can put their own seals on the boxes during this time in order to make doubly sure that the ballot box is secure.

This is to counter a common election allegation that voting papers are stuffed in after the boxes are sealed.

Counting is done in front of the party agents and they are in a position to keep a careful eye on the counting process. In the end the agents also counter-sign that the numbers recorded are what was found.

As soon as counting is completed and entered on to the result sheet at the voting station, the sheet is scanned and forwarded to the IEC’s election centre.

Party agents can also check that the scanned sheets tally with the final results that are announced.

Du Plessis said that with this process it is evident that not much can go wrong.

However, he warned that in his experience at most voting stations, the first half hour can be fairly chaotic.

“We find that part of the problem is that party agents have not received enough training. The result is that they don’t know the do’s and don’ts.”

He said it is important that parties ensure that their agents are well trained.

He added that not only must the agents be well trained, but the party must also ensure that they have agents present at every voting station.

“I recommend that where possible the sooner parties can train their agents the better. Well trained agents will be in a better position to look after the party interests and it will make everyone’s work easier because there will be less scope for suspicion,” he said.

Bam’s message to the political parties was that the IEC remains accountable to them through the PLCs.

“We will remain impartial and independent so that the trust you have in us is there,” she told party representatives at a meeting in Durban recently.

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