Georgina Guedes

It isn’t fair!

2016-04-12 14:48

Georgina Guedes

The first I heard of the fact that voters would have to re-register at their polling station ahead of the municipal elections was when I received an SMS from the IEC telling me that they didn’t have my address.

I was very surprised about this. I have lived in my house in Orange Grove for 13 years and voted at the Paterson Park polling station in various national and municipal elections as well as one by-election in that time.

Nonetheless, the IEC had asked me to re-register, and in all my past dealings with them they have been a mostly efficient and helpful organisation, so being civically minded, I accepted that I would have to make the time to pop in this past weekend.

But, why?

I also did some research. It seems that the genesis of this particular hoop through which we are expected to jump is a Constitutional Court ruling on 30 November 2015, which held that a voters roll was not valid if it did not have an address listed for the voters.

The IEC has approached the Constitutional Court for clarity on whether that meant that addresses needed to be captured for new registrations from the time of the ruling or whether the ruling applied retrospectively to all previously registered voters.

The Constitutional Court will only provide their ruling on 9 May, which is why the IEC has gone ahead and requested that people register their addresses in the last registration weekend before the municipal elections on 3 August this year to ensure that the elections are deemed to be free and fair.

But they didn’t really advertise it

The problem is that, in my humble opinion, they didn’t do a very good job of publicising this. Sure, I received an SMS telling me to please visit my nearest polling station, but many people didn’t. The IEC, in fact, has admitted that it was only able to source cell phone numbers for 5.3 million of the 6.92 million voters for whom they do not have addresses.

The street pole ads instructed us to register to vote, but said nothing about confirming addresses. Out of curiosity, I sent my ID number to the IEC’s SMS line but received no response. For many of my friends and associates, the fact that they had to check and possibly re-register their addresses was a surprise.
“I registered years ago,” was the most common response.

Yes, there were news articles – but the IEC didn’t place enormous red banners around their constituencies stating, “If we don’t have your address, you can’t vote. Please check at your local polling station.”

The process is simple – too simple

Anyway, I did go to confirm my address, and it was a very easy process. However, I was not asked to prove my address – I simply had to fill in a form. In a country where we practically have to produce a proof of residence to buy coffee, I am not convinced that simply writing down an address is sufficient evidence that you actually live there.

I am not sure how an election can be declared free and fair under such circumstances. Lots of people didn’t know what they had to do, many South Africans have no formal address, and the process for gathering the addresses leaves a lot to be desired in terms of actual validity.

This mess is not an ANC conspiracy – they have a lot to lose if rural voters without valid addresses are struck off the roll. It is, however, a complete shambles thanks to an unfortunately timed ruling that undermines some of voting processes in the year of a very important election.  

There is still time!

As a voice of sanity, I implore the IEC to wait out the Constitutional Court ruling and, if necessary, to hold another round of registrations and address confirmations with an active campaign to encourage the public to provide the necessary information – a campaign that reaches people who are not like me and don’t spend their weeks reading the news and social media.

Otherwise the ANC might just be justified in calling the election unfree and unfair when it shows them exactly how much their public support has dropped.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    iec  |  local elections 2016
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