Tabling a revised 2021-22 budget of R1.9 billion to cover the cost of running South Africa’s first post Covid-19 local government elections this year, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) is confident it can deliver free and fair polls, with 31% being invested in new generation voting management devices.
Addressing the parliamentary home affairs portfolio committee on the IEC’s annual budget and performance plan – including administration, electoral operations and party funding – IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo conceded the country’s fiscal climate and a battered economy had led to drastic cuts in commission operations – amounting to R663 million.
The budget will see 27% spent on electoral operations, staff expansion and events, with 10% going to registration, voting material, warehousing and distribution costs.
Four percent has been allocated to communication and media.
Said Mamabolo: “The strategy on voter education had to be adjusted to minimise the interaction of voters – avoiding cross transmission of the virus.
“Covid-19 measures for the elections, like non-pharmaceutical protocols, will be in place.
“What we are looking at are measures proposed [by] the national party liaison committee on how to use special votes creatively to decongest voting stations on election day.
“We are looking at people of a particular age and those with comorbidities being granted special votes – running special votes for a greater number of days.”
Turning to voter education, he said: “Our voter education programme is going to be largely on radio through the SABC and community radio stations
“There will also be a significant proportion of voter education happening via social media channels.
“We will still retain our municipal outreach coordinators, with a capacity to do face-to-face intervention. But that won’t be the mainstay element of the voter registration campaign.”
While the IEC was concerned about a low voter turnout in national elections, Mamabolo said local government elections drew larger numbers.
“During the 2011 and 2016 polls, we are hovered at around a 58% voter turnout.
“It is our desire and hope through putting resources into a communication campaign and the voter education programme that we will register at least 60% of voters.
“The voter management device will have an offline functionality, which means we will cover areas without a broadband.
“The system will ensure that the person is in the correct voters’ roll and in the right ward.
“When we get back to office, we’ll upload the data into the network and send the confirmation to the voter.
“We expect to receive the first consignment of these devices for training in the middle of the month, having procuring 40 000 devices – sufficient for registration purposes,” said Mamabolo.
Said IEC chair Glen Mashinini: “The budget includes key financial resources and the quantum required to deliver the country’s fifth local government election.
“Usually, the cost of elections is spread over two or more years, including two registration weekends.
“We are now living under abnormal conditions due to the pandemic, which has had an impact on our lives and challenged the fiscus.
“Major activities relating to the elections have had to be customised and adapted, with our budget now compressed into a single financial year. But we are happy that the process of engagement with National Treasury has already begun.
“With 23 000 voting stations around the country, we have had to ensure enough staff – about 58 000 officials – to be recruited to assist with registration alone.”