A Deputy Presiding Officer from a voting station in Benoni, Ekurhuleni, has been removed, following an investigation into a video showing a party agent assisting with the transfer of special votes.
The video, which went viral on Monday, showed a party agent helping to transfer special votes in their double envelopes from a ballot bag used during home visits to a ballot box in the voting station.
Ballot bags are used to collect special votes during home visits, as ballot boxes are impractical for home visits. At the end of the day of home visits, the special votes collected are then transferred to a ballot box for secure storage and to empty the ballot bag for use on the second day of special voting.
The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) said while the transfer of the special votes from bags to ballot boxes is normal procedure, the handling of any electoral material by any party agent is strictly prohibited.
“They [party agents] are only allowed to observe operations and raise objections. The Deputy Presiding Officer, who was overseeing the process, has therefore been removed,” the Electoral Commission said in a statement on Tuesday.
Despite the breach, the Commission said it is confident that the integrity was not undermined as special votes have a very strict verification process prior to the counting of ballots through the double envelope system.
Explaining the verification process, the Electoral Commission said all special votes are first placed in an unmarked envelope, which is then inserted into a second envelope, which is marked with the voting station and voter’s particulars for verification.
“The envelope is then placed in the ballot box or bag (home visits). Before special votes are included in the count, they are subjected to a thorough verification against lists of authorised special voters. This is witnessed by party agents and observers.
“Only when the special vote is confirmed against the authorised list is the outer envelope removed and the inner envelope is added to normal ballots for counting. This protects the secrecy of the vote,” the Commission explained.
The Electoral Commission said that following Monday’s first day of special voting, it is also investigating reports of instances of the double envelope system not being used in some special voting, as well as some ballot papers which may not have been stamped at the back.
“The stamping of ballot papers immediately prior to them being issued to voters is an important security measure. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the Commission will make a decision on whether these votes are included in the count or not.”
Vigilance of party agents appreciated
Meanwhile, the Commission has expressed its appreciation to party agents for the vigilance and voters in monitoring the election process, and in bringing to its attention potential problems.
“This should be done firstly at the voting station through the Presiding Officer and, if not resolved then it should be raised through the existing channels including the party liaison structures. Providing as much detail of any incident – including where and when it occurred – would significantly speed up the investigation process.”
The special voting through home visits and voting station visits continues today. – SAnews.gov.za