If we continue with these systems, we'll be acting 'irresponsibly' - IEC chair's sobering admission

Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) chairperson Glen Mashinini has admitted that its current voter verification system is so outdated that it would not survive another election – and he hinted that it would be updated before the 2021 local government elections.

"We will speak of pre-2019 elections in South Africa as opposed to post-2019," he told participants at a post-elections review seminar organised by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) in Johannesburg on Monday.

"If we go into [another] elections with these systems, we will act irresponsibly, we will plunge the country [into problems]. We must look at what further automations must be brought into the system."

Mashinini admitted that the IEC’s systems had not kept up with the Department of Home Affairs' introduction of smart identity cards in 2013.

Previously, the IEC’s checks on the system included pasting a slip in the green ID book and marking a voter's finger with indelible ink to prevent double voting. However, on voting day on May 8, there were allegations of multiple voting after a number of voters claimed it was easy to wash off the indelible ink.

Mashinini admitted to "factory defects", but claimed the IEC had proved that any possible cases of double voting were statistically insignificant. He also claimed such cases were exposed because the IEC’s own systems had picked up on it.

Electoral fraud is punishable with a 10-year prison sentence. Mashinini said, when the "zip-zip" handheld scanners were introduced in 1998, the machines didn’t have to be interconnected because the printed slip from these machines could be pasted in the green ID book to prove that a voter has voted.

"We need to have an integrated system, as opposed to what we have at the moment," he admitted.

Mashinini gave the example of a bank ATM machine, which would not allow a client to empty a bank account at one ATM and then repeat the process at another, because the systems are integrated. For the ink, he said, the IEC would also "need to find an innovative way".

IEC deputy chief executive officer Masego Sheburi said there was enough reception at 95% of voting stations to introduce such integrated systems. In the remaining 5%, he said, the IEC could take other steps to safeguard the integrity of the elections.

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