Was the election a stuff-up?

Ballot boxes on voting day, 8th May 2019. Picture: Neil McCartney

Ballot boxes on voting day, 8th May 2019. Picture: Neil McCartney

Election 2019 could have been far better organised.

The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) is again being hailed as a pillar of electoral rectitude.

“An example to Africa, where elections are flawed…”, said a Sunday Times headline. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, election 2019 was reminiscent of a remark by retired Constitutional Court judge Johann Kriegler, who chaired the IEC during SA’s historic 1994 poll.

When writer Paidraig O’Malley asked him about horse-trading over vote counts, Kriegler replied: “If the parties are happy with it … I am happy with it. We can’t check everywhere. Come on, are you looking for chastity in a brothel?”

It was unfair of Kriegler to compare the IEC to a house of ill-repute, but we do need to stop pretending our elections are flawless. I have been on duty during several elections. The calibre of party agents and IEC officials has dropped. This was evident throughout voting day, May 8.

It became more so in the early hours of May 9, when signed results slips appeared. WhatsApp has become a convenient way of sharing such documents. Glaring errors were apparent. At one voting station, the top three parties each received the same number of votes.

This statistical improbability was challenged and, eventually, corrected. However, in my ward, two errors which were repeatedly pointed out to IEC and party officials had not been rectified at the time of this writing. On a provincial result slip for Hyde Park High School voting station, both the ANC and the EFF were erroneously given exactly the same number of votes: 643.

After I pointed this out, a corrected, signed slip was posted. The EFF vote was noted as 171, while the DA count was correctly listed as 2,207. But the story does not end with those slips, which had been verified by people present at the count.

On the IEC website results for Hyde Park, the ANC and EFF are both still on 643, which is incorrect. Inexplicably the DA total is reduced from the signed-off 2,207 to 1,742. So 465 votes are missing.

That’s 15% of the valid votes cast at the station. Variations of such errors are replicated elsewhere. Usually, they are resolved through multiparty liaison committees which, by law, must be established at national, provincial and municipal levels. I am assured by senior politicians that everything will eventually be resolved in time. Imagine if we trusted all politicians. The reassurances are unsatisfactory.

Standards have been allowed to slip too far. Perhaps allowances were made in 1994 because those in charge did not want to see a watershed occasion ruined by seemingly petty quibbles. But that attitude should not be allowed to endure if our elections are to retain credibility and stature. Election 2019 could have been far better organised.

Experienced presiding officers were let down by inadequately trained underlings and poor logistical arrangements. It is inexcusable that after 25 years’ experience, the IEC could run out of several stationery items. It used ink which was far from indelible. And too many counting errors were made.

Not quite bordello level, but in many ways a stuff-up that should not be repeated.

Martin Williams, DA councillor and former editor of The Citizen.

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