Address by the Chief Electoral Officer Advocate Pansy Tlakula launch of the national Results Operation Centre
11 May 2011Introduction
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you today to the launch of the national Results Operations Centre (ROC). The ROC – as it is popularly known – has become an important feature of elections that are managed by the Electoral Commission. For the next few days until the final results are announced, commissioners and officials of the commission will relocate from our offices to the ROC. Over this period, the ROC becomes the central point from which all election-related activities throughout the country is coordinated.
Recent elections in a few parts of Africa have been marred by violent conflict. From these incidents some commentators have generalised that peaceful, free and fair elections are nearly impossible on the African continent. However elections in Africa have a long history and not all those elections have been characterised by violent conflict. Just across our border, Botswana has held regular, free and fair election since 1966. By comparison, South Africans are relative latecomers with our first free and fair elections in 1994.
There are many criteria that define “free and fair” elections. What stands out though is the extent to which measures are in place to ensure transparency in all aspects of the elections.
Their competitive and politically contentious character, including their technical complexity, makes elections vulnerable to abuse, fraud or perceptions thereof. Unless conducted fairly, and are perceived to be impartial and fair, they can lead to conflict and even violence, thereby negating their primary objective of providing legitimacy to an elected government.
As the body that is tasked with the responsibility of managing elections, the Electoral Commission must ensure that it manages the entire electoral process in a manner that will result in, what some writers refer to as, electoral justice1 for all the participants in the electoral process. For electoral justice to be realised, every action, procedure and decision that is taken in relation to the electoral process must be in line with the Constitution and law.
The commission is established by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa to manage elections and to ensure that those elections are free and fair. In terms of the Electoral Commission Act, the functions of the commission include to “promote conditions conducive to free and fair elections”.
Ensuring free and fair elections
For an election to be free, citizens must have the right and opportunity to choose. There must be freedom of assembly, association, movement, and speech – for candidates, parties, voters, media, observers and others. The political environment should be free of intimidation, and there should not be any impediments to standing for election by both political parties and independent candidates. Therefore freedom is an essential precondition to meaningful elections.
To be fair, an election must have honest voting and counting, administered without fraud or manipulation by impartial election authorities. Political parties and individuals must have reasonable opportunities to stand for election, and there must be prompt and just resolution of election-related disputes and grievances, before and after Election Day.
Fairness also requires a “level playing field”. Misuse of public resources for campaign purposes and incumbency should be avoided, and all parties and candidates must have an adequate chance of communicating with the voters, including reasonably equitable access to the media.
Furthermore, for elections to be fair official announcement of results should be expedited and electoral complaints should be treated with impartiality.
An electoral process has three periods or phases, namely pre-electoral, electoral and post-electoral. For this purpose, my discussion will be focussed on the activities that the commission has conducted during the pre-electoral and electoral periods, to ensure that the 2011 municipal elections are conducted within the principles of freeness and fairness.
The pre-electoral period
The activities that the commission has conducted during the pre-electoral period includes the review of electoral legislation, delimitation of voting district boundaries, registration of political parties, the updating of the voters’ roll by conducting extensive voter registration, civic education and communication.
I may, at this stage, mention that the number of voting districts has increased from 14 988 for the 2000 municipal elections to 18 873 in 2006 and to 20 859 for the current elections. This is an overall increase of some 40% since 2000. Extending the electoral infrastructure to such an extent is obviously a costly exercise. Our primary objective, however, has always been to make voting facilities accessible to all voters and particularly so in rural areas, with their significant need for increased accessibility.
No voters’ roll in any country can ever be 100% accurate or complete. For instance, since the roll was certified on 18 March some of those on the roll would have passed away. I am, however, satisfied that our recent registration weekends have given us the most up-to-date voters’ roll possible in our circumstances. The result of the commission’s registration activities was that the total on the National Common Voters’ Roll increased from 21 million in 2006 to 23.6 million for these elections.
It is estimated that about 82% of eligible South African citizens are registered as voters. Those who are not registered are mostly younger than 30 and this corresponds with international trends. In older age groups for all practical purposes we have an optimum registration of voters.
The voters’ roll is, of course, crucial to the successful conduct of a free and fair election. In its printed format, as will be used at the various voting stations, the 20 859 segments amount to 1.55 million pages or some 7.5 tons of paper.
I will name but a few of the other logistical arrangements that also had to be put in place. The commission procured 221 610 ballot boxes, 118 770 voting compartments and 58 240 stationery packs. It is the practice of the commission to use cardboard ballot boxes, voting compartments and even cardboard tables and chairs where such furniture is not available locally. These are recycled after an election since storing such equipment over the long term is not economically viable. It is a massive logistical operation to ensure that all this equipment arrives at its various destinations in good time but not too early, since that would require extra storage space and corresponding expenditure.
An election needs ballot papers. On this occasion the process of candidate nomination by political parties and individuals has presented difficulties. It was characterised by intra-party disputes and resulting court cases, the last of which was resolved only some 15 minutes before nominations closed. This created some pressure on political parties to submit their nominations in good time together with the legally prescribed supporting documentation. Further court cases in the High Court, the Electoral Court and the Constitutional Court resulted.
In the Constitutional Court case, “Electoral Commission of the Republic of South Africa v Inkatha Freedom Party”, judgment was handed down only yesterday. The case arose because the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) was unable to deliver its candidate nomination documents to the Umzumbe local office of the commission. The commission declined to accept the documents at its Durban office but the Electoral Court found in favour of the IFP and ruled that the Commission had to accept the documents. The Commission appealed to the Constitutional Court. In a unanimous judgment the Constitutional Court found that there were important considerations that require documents to be submitted at the local office and that delivery of documents to another office was therefore not in compliance with the provisions of the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act. While we welcomed the court’s ruling, this has placed us under enormous pressure as far as ballot papers are concerned since we are now required to reprint ballot papers for Umzumbe. The task will, however, be completed later this week.
In the end, we have 121 parties contesting the elections with only one party contesting all 278 metro, local council and district council elections. More than 53 000 candidates have been nominated by political parties as ward or proportional list candidates or are standing as independent ward candidates. The ward and proportional ballot papers containing the most candidate names and parties respectively both relate to the Cape Town metro where 33 parties and candidates are contesting both PR and ward elections.
These elections will use 4 555 unique ballot papers. A total of 70.5 million ballot papers will be printed. Ballot papers for national and provincial elections have always been in colour while those for municipal elections have been in black-and-white because of their large variety and the corresponding logistical challenges. For these municipal elections all ballot papers will, however, also be in colour for the first time. This will make party logos and ballot papers more easily distinguishable and will help voters. For the first time in municipal elections a template in Braille will also be available for voters with visual impairments. Special voting components that cater for people in wheelchairs will also be available at every voting station. As an Electoral Commission we are very much aware of, and will always try to improve facilities for, voters with special needs.
Although we realise that technical readiness and excellence alone is not nearly sufficient to deliver an election that would be received by all participants as “free and fair”, it is pleasing to note that the Commission has been able to maintain a state of readiness for conducting these elections. We have thus ensured that our pre-election activities are conducted with care and diligence, and in a transparent manner to ensure confidence in how we manage these elections.
The electoral period
Almost always, activities that are conducted in the electoral period are met with challenges. These activities include nomination and registration of candidates and parties contesting the elections, campaigning, appointment of voting officials, accreditation of election observers, the process of voting itself, vote counting and announcement and publication of results.
We have had, and continue to experience our share of challenges during this period. I have already referred to the challenges around candidate nomination and how these have impacted on, for example, the production of ballot papers. It is however worth mentioning that these challenges should be perceived as a test of the strength, vitality and openness of the system and its procedures. We therefore welcome these challenges.
We have recruited about 200 000 people as electoral staff for these elections. The details of presiding officers and their deputies have been submitted to party liaison committees with a view to ensuring that we employ only people who will act impartially. It is always a challenge to recruit and train these electoral staff members who will be engaged only for a few days, and to equip them adequately to deal with all the legal, logistical, management and people-management elements they will face on Election Day. Although they are employed for such a short period, they are the face of the commission and thus a critical component in the elections. I wish them strength for their task since many of them will be working for 24 hours and longer on Election Day.
Measures to enhance credibility of election results
The commission is committed to ensure that there is transparency in the vote counting process – to parties, candidates, observers, the media and the public. To ensure the credibility of the results of these elections, the commission is committed to implementing several measures.
The legislative prescript is that agents of political parties and independent candidates may be present when ballot boxes are sealed before voting begins. These agents observe the voting process and are still present when ballot boxes are opened and votes are counted in the voting stations themselves. Counting will take place immediately after voting, at each voting station, unless there are valid reasons not to do so. The agents verify the correct recording of the count on a results slip and, if satisfied, append their signatures to it. A copy of the results slip is posted on the door of the voting station and the original taken to the municipal office of the commission. Independent auditors verify the correct capturing of the results from the various voting stations and the results slip is also electronically scanned into the commission’s results system. At this centre it will thus be possible for commission’s officials, representatives of political parties and independent candidates to see an image of the signed results slip in conjunction with the captured results for each voting station. This process has served us well and embodies sufficient controls to ensure that any inadvertent errors are detected and corrected. Questions about the correct reflection of the will of the people as expressed in an election have caused problems in elections on our continent and elsewhere, even in the most developed parts of the world. There has been very little such contestation in South Africa. Our laws, procedures and control measures have served us well.
During reconciliation of the vote, the commission will conduct regular meetings with political parties at each of the ten results operation Centres that are spread throughout the country in each province to explain the process and to respond to questions and complaints openly and in a timely manner.
Objections material to results of election
Disputes and complaints are inherent to an election and will always arise during an electoral process. It is therefore incumbent upon the electoral laws to provide for the means and mechanisms to ensure that electoral processes are not marred by irregularities, and provide mechanisms to prevent electoral disputes, including resolving them, either by institutional means, informal mechanisms or any alternative means of resolution as may be required.
In South Africa, Section 65 of the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act deals with the handling of objections that are material to results of an election. In terms of the act, any interested party may lodge with the commission, an objection material to the results of an election, concerning, any aspect of the voting or counting proceeding as provided by the law, including alleged unlawful interference with or obstruction of election activities or processes in the vicinity of, at or in a voting station, or interference with or influencing, intimidation or obstruction of voters or prospective voters in the vicinity of, at or in a voting station.
In terms of section 65, the powers of the commission to decide on an objection are enhanced to an extent that the commission is empowered to consider the objection and either reject or uphold it. Furthermore, if the Commission decides to uphold the objection before the results of the election had been determined, the commission may:
In terms of the law, an objecting party or other party involved in the objection who feels aggrieved by the decision of the commission may within seven days of the commission’s decision, lodge an appeal to the Electoral Court. The Electoral Court is established in terms of Section 18 of the Electoral Commission Act 51 of 1996 and has a status of the Supreme Court, and may review any decision of the commission relating to an electoral matter.
- decide that the votes cast at a particular voting station do not count in whole or in part
- decide that the votes cast at a particular voting station in favour of a party or candidate must be deducted in whole or in part from the votes cast in favour of that party or candidate in the election
- reduce the number of votes cast in favour of a party or a candidate.
This Results Operations Centre will be the hub for all operations on Election Day. One reason for having a centre such as this is the credibility and transparency it brings to the results process. In order for elections to be free and fair, and to be seen as such, transparency in their conduct and in determining their outcome is fundamental. We hope that most of you will be able to visit the centre in the coming week so that you can bear testimony that indeed, we did everything possible to safeguard the freeness and fairness of these elections.
On the leader board, which will shortly be unveiled, we have listed all political parties that are contesting elections in three or more provinces. As results are processed they will appear on the leader board next to the names and logos of the relevant parties.
I would like to use this opportunity to thank those companies that are sponsoring this centre. Telkom is the principle (platinum) sponsor whilst Hewlett-Packard is a gold sponsor and Accenture and Internet Solutions are silver sponsors. The commission has also received financial contributions from Anglo American and Standard Bank in support of its activities.
I have touched on the most visible elements of an election and can confirm that our preparations are complete and that we are ready for special voting on 16 and 17 May and for general voting on Election Day itself, Wednesday, 18 May.
The theme of our communication campaign has been “Love Your South Africa”. Loving your country means that you have an interest in its welfare and progress. That requires participation in its management and at a local level which manifests itself in the election of a municipal council. It is the governing structure that has the most direct influence on our everyday lives.
The commission and its permanent staff members, as well as the thousands of temporary electoral staff at voting stations, are ready to receive the electorate. It is now up to political parties to muster their supporters and for responsible citizens to exercise their right to vote and to determine the future of their local communities.
Source: Independent Electoral Commission
Issued by: Independent Electoral Commission
11 May 2011
[ Top ]