Expats seek answers on oversea

Expats seek answers on overseas vote problems

The national elections may be yesterday’s news in South Africa, but expats around the world still have many questions concerning the mismanagement of the vote abroad. As hundreds did not get to cast their votes despite the best of intentions and efforts, inquiries examining the overseas vote are beginning to produce some initial answers

Expats seek answers on oversea

As the National Assembly is sworn in and Jacob Zuma inaugurated to serve his second term as president, many expats are still upset about having been unable to cast their votes amid confusion and mistakes.

In many instances, people took time off work and travelled considerable distances only to be turned away after queuing for hours. Even if they managed to put their crosses on the ballots successfully, some of the boxes filled with ballots ended up being disregarded on account of not shipping back to Mzansi on time. These included votes from Toronto, Lubumbashi, Havana and Madrid, all of which were excluded due to logistics and customs procedures.

But the problems started long before the election date arrived. One of the greatest grievances recounted ahead of the elections was the limited number of voting stations made available by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). As dictated by the Electoral Amendment Act of 2013, voting stations were only allowed be set up in areas classified as South African territory (as defined by The Hague Convention).

In practice this would only entail South African High Commissions and embassies. This particular aspect of the new regulation affected voters living far away from their respective High Commissions. The consequences of these limitations could most notably be felt by the South African diaspora living in Perth, Australia, and in Vancouver, Canada – both thousands of miles away from their diplomatic representations in Canberra and in Ottawa, respectively.

Penny Tainton, the Democratic Alliance (DA) liaison in charge of furthering the overseas vote, explains that in order to reach a wider portion of expat voters in the future, she “will continue to look for solutions.”

“The IEC has been looking at the possibility of electronic voting. This has been used successfully for overseas voting by a number of countries. Postal or proxy voting has not been, and is not likely to be, considered due to the possibility of electoral fraud,” Tainton said.

More controversy also arose over the VEC10 form required to be filled out online a few weeks after registration but well ahead of the vote abroad date. Intended to facilitate the logistics behind the overseas vote, many expats were entirely unaware of VEC10, prompting them to show up to vote and be turned away.

Despite registering with an email address, no reminder was sent out afterwards to advise prospective voters to fill out the VEC10 form by its intended deadline. Many South Africans simply assumed that no additional action needed to be taken and would be prompted by communications sent out by the IEC or by their closest High Commission.

“The VEC10 allowed for appropriate logistical arrangements to be made, for example the number of ballots, envelopes etc needed, as well as to effectively provide a ‘voters roll’ for that station,” Tainton said, implying that the VEC10 is here to stay despite its challenges and problems.

Further issues emerged at the front of the queues: some prospective voters who had reportedly followed every single step and could prove their application process had been completed by producing their VEC10 confirmation were still turned away if they didn’t feature on the voters’ roll on account of ‘human error’.

Tainton says that this hints at a flaw in the system, which needs to be improved ahead of the next election, for which her team is busy mining evidence and compiling a list of incidences when such error occurred.

“This should not have happened. We will follow up on every instance reported to us to try to understand why this happened.”

A lack of proper facilities while queuing for hours to vote (as was the case in London) was also among common complaints.

Others also criticised the date chosen for the vote abroad: despite being a week earlier than the elections in South Africa, the 30 April 30 still fell on a weekday rather than a weekend, when working people could go to vote more freely all day long.

However, considering it is still early days for the fully integrated vote abroad and despite its documented list problems, IEC chairman Pansy Tlakula declared “the 2014 National and Provincial Elections free and fair.”

If, however, you wish to contest any of the proceedings and want your grievance to be considered during upcoming debriefings, please contact the IEC directly at webmaster@elections.org.za