Voting in a pandemic: Ink on cotton wool, and bring your own pen

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(Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)
(Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)
  • The IEC says it is financially stable to hold by-elections. 
  • Deputy CEO Masego Shiburi says the IEC plans to clear the backlog of all outstanding polls on 11 November.
  • He adds that the use of indelible ink will be changed for safety purposes. 

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) is leaving nothing to chance in the upcoming "mini elections" in November, where a series of by-elections will be held across the country. 

Voting amid the Covid-19 pandemic has come with challenges and the commission said they are taking every precaution, including using cotton wool to mark voters' hands with indelible ink. 

Voters have been encouraged to bring their own pens to mark their ballot. 

Speaking to News24 on Tuesday, Deputy CEO Masego Shiburi said the IEC planned for a number of changes to the voting process, given the pandemic in the 461 voting districts across the country. 

"These include implementing strict social distancing practices outside and inside voting stations, along with the use of hand sanitisers as voters enter and exit the voting station."

Shiburi said some of their challenges in organising the by-elections came from political parties, who would not make concessions on where temporary structures will be permitted to be erected outside voting stations.

"Our first prize would have been to ask the parties to jettison the practice, so that visually we create an almost sterile environment to reassure South Africa that is safe to go to voting stations," he said. 

But political parties did not agree. 

Shiburi said to prevent the perception that it might be a point of contamination, the IEC will instead use a different applicator to mark voters' hands, by applying a small amount of the ink to cotton wool.

While these changes in voting may have come at a price for the IEC, the commission said it has enough in its piggy bank for its big by-election day in November.

"Where there are financial implications, it relates to measures we must ensure to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. We made all arrangements within the available budget that we have, so that we can fund the procurement of these necessary PPEs and all these things of public health in voting stations.

"We always need money, but for these by-elections we are able to fund them," he said, adding that the cost of these measures was indeterminate. 

The IEC is set to resume by-elections, and plans to clear the backlog of all outstanding polls on 11 November.

In a statement issued on Friday, the commission said the scheduling of by-elections follows consultations with Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as well as represented political parties via a special National Party Liaison Committee meeting held on Thursday.

READ | Covid-19: Electoral Court grants IEC permission to postpone by-elections

"By-elections have not been held since March 2020, following the declaration of a National State of Disaster and the imposition of the lockdown restrictions intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus," it said."Since then, 96 ward vacancies in 56 municipalities have occurred, including two dissolved councils in the Northern Cape, where PR candidates must also be elected (nine PR seats in Phokwane and three PR seats in Renosterberg).

"To clear the backlog, the commission plans to hold all vacant ward by-elections simultaneously on 11 November 2020."

The by-elections are scheduled in all nine provinces, across 461 voting districts.

They will be held under new Covid-19 protocols.

The IEC postponed all by-elections shortly after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a state of disaster. 

Talks have been ongoing between the IEC and political parties on a postponement of the 2021 local elections. 

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