Thousands of expats cast first votes

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pretoria - Thousands of South Africans worldwide are already descending on missions abroad to cast their votes today.

At least 16 240 registered South Africans abroad are expected to vote at South African embassies today, in a process that will be overseen by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) at 124 missions.

Being temporarily absent from the country for the purpose of a holiday, a business trip, attending a tertiary institution, on an educational visit or participating in an international sports event also qualifies for a special vote today at missions abroad.

Voting stations at South African missions abroad opened at 7am and is expected to close at 5pm in the respective countries.

Reports say voters are already queuing outside the South African High Commission in London on Wednesday morning as hundreds of citizens wait to vote.

An estimated 7 472 expatriates are expected to turn out in London at the largest South African polling station. Chief electoral officer Pansy Tlakula is at the station.

Voting in Canberra (Australia) has neared completion. There were over 1 230 registered South Africans in the capital who were expected to cast their votes today.

Dubai (United Arab Emirates) is expected to have 900 South Africans descending at its South African mission, while Wellington (New Zealand), where voting is also reported to be nearing completion, was expecting 410 South Africans to cast their votes.

The Hague (The Netherlands) has 378 registered voters, while Dublin (Ireland) has 360.

Election fever is expected to be in low gear in Israel in the Palestine territories as only 75 people registered to vote at the South African Embassy in Ra'anana while just one person has registered to vote in Ramallah in the West Bank.

One of the factors that may keep people away there is that today is the last day of the Jewish festival of Pass Over and observant Jews are not allowed to work, let alone vote on that day.

Other voting stations with the lowest number of registered voters are Asmara (Eritrea), Suva (Fiji), Ramallah (Palestine), Bujumbura (Burundi) and Trinidad and Tobago (Port of Spain) with only one voter each.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and her South African delegation are expected to cast their vote in Geneva, Switzerland later today.

The minister will not be in the country on 22 April, due to official engagements in Geneva where she will be leading a South African government delegation to the UN World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and related Intolerances.

Election officials, members of the security forces performing election duty as well as South Africans who will be outside the borders of the country who have indicated they wanted to vote before departure, will vote on 20 and 21 April between 9am and 5pm at the office of the presiding officer of the voting district in which they have registered.

To ensure both the secrecy and legitimacy of overseas votes, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has set up a two envelope system.

Once a voter at an overseas mission has cast their vote in secret it is placed in an unmarked envelope and sealed.

This unmarked envelope is then placed in another envelope with the voter's name, ID number and voter district number. The envelopes are then placed in a ballot box which is sealed.

When it is opened on Election Day, 22 April, the details on the marked envelope are checked against the voters' roll and if there is no irregularity, the unmarked envelope is placed in the ballot box.

This ensures the vote is anonymous when the ballot is then counted.