Sunday 16th Jun 2019

Marianne Merten• - Daily Maverick - 
 
The National Election Results Operation Centre in Pretoria shortly after midnight on 9 May as the 2019 general elections vote count gets under way. (Photo by Gallo Images/Sydney Seshibedi) -

The Electoral Commission of South Africa remained upbeat about the 8 May poll even as reports came in of voting stations running out of ballot papers, quick-fading ink to mark voters’ thumbs and various glitches, ranging from 16 temporary voting stations in Mangaung blown over in strong winds to power outages caused by wind and cable theft that affected voting after sunset in uMlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, Vuwani and Giyani in Limpopo and parts of Johannesburg.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) was “extremely pleased” with the smooth voting process, according to its update after voting stations closed at 9pm on Wednesday. But as complaints about voting glitches and snarl-ups continued throughout the day, the IEC appealed for formal complaints to be brought to it.

“The electoral commission will not allow the potential misconduct of one or two individuals – be they voters or election officials – to taint the overall outcome of these elections. The integrity of the results is paramount to the credibility of all elections…”

Earlier in the day, the IEC said it had been a “positive” start to the voting day with 98% of voting stations open by 11am and large numbers of voters having cast their ballots.

“In scenes reminiscent of 1994, long queues of voters were seen waiting patiently to vote at voting stations throughout the country. The electoral commission assures voters that adequate supplies of all materials, including more than 60 million ballot papers, are available and every voter will be assisted to vote,” the IEC said.

By 11.30am only 17 of the 22,924 voting stations countrywide had not yet opened; 14 of those were in KwaZulu-Natal. By 5pm it was just five that had not opened – three in KwaZulu-Natal’s Inkosi Langalibalele municipality in uThukela (Estcourt) and, in the Eastern Cape, one in Buffalo City Metro and one in Ntabankulu.

In several areas across the country trenches dug to prevent IEC officials from opening voting stations first had to be dealt with. Aside from the power outages — voting stations have emergency LED lighting — the IEC said that 30 voting stations in Nelson Mandela Bay and Cradock in the Eastern Cape were affected by heavy rain and winds.

But as voting stations closed and the focus shifted increasingly to the IEC national results centre in Tshwane, party political observers there again raised concerns about voting stations running out of ballot papers, ink fading from thumbs, how the special votes of Monday and Tuesday were handled and various delays.

It is understood the party political liaison committee which works with the IEC agreed that all special votes would be counted, whether in the required envelopes or not and whether the ballot papers were stamped or not — as long as the number of special votes tallied with the number of special vote applications, which is kept separately.

Whether this is one of many compromises to be made as the votes are being counted remains to be seen.

Late on Wednesday evening, more people arrived at the national results centre, where security was tight and even included a group of mounted police whose horses trotted in the dark past Hall J. A group of diplomats was shown around, live television election broadcasts were beamed from temporary studios and a host of officials strolled about.

Political parties such as the ANC and DA, placed at opposite sides of the giant hall, clearly were speaking to people on the ground at voting stations. But at that stage no one really wanted to say anything; numbers were still being crunched. The ANC smiled, whispering Gauteng was won — pollsters had predicted the need for coalitions — while the DA maintained it had done enough to crack the governing party’s hold. Only the results expected in the course of Thursday, most likely into the early hours of Friday morning, will show the real picture.

Election day 2019 saw voters take to social media to post photos of their ink-marked left thumbs to spur on others to cast their ballots. Most left it at that; taking and publishing a photo of the marked ballot is illegal under electoral rules.

Another election day tradition is to capture the voting of leaders such as former president Kgalema Motlanthe — after years of silence, he’s recently publicly pledged his vote for the ANC, as did former president Thabo Mbeki — or party political leaders such as ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa, who on Wednesday in Chiawelo, Soweto, talked up the new dawn and hope, EFF chief Julius Malema in his home town Seshego, Polokwane, and DA leader Mmusi Maimane, who cast his ballot in Soweto, for change and the DA.

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi cast his 10th democratic vote (including municipal polls), the first by himself.

“My only sadness … is feeling the absence of my wife, Princess Irene. For all these years we have gone together to our voting station at the Buthelezi Traditional Court House/Council Offices, and cast our votes together. I miss sharing this and so many other moments with her,” Buthelezi said in a statement in reference to his late wife.

But even at this stage, there was time to mix and blend concern over possible irregularities with a good dose of politicking.

“We are closely monitoring the voting process in an effort to protect the integrity of the election … The DA is encouraged to see the thousands of South Africans who have been brave and have chosen to give change a chance, in many parts of the country braving the cold and the rain in so doing,” said DA national spokesperson Solly Malatsi in a statement.

The first results from the smaller voting districts — Robben Island is one such venue, as has been Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape — were expected around midnight. But an indication of voter trends from a sufficient number of results from a sufficiently widespread of voting stations and districts is expected only early on Thursday. The wait is now on. DM

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