An Electoral Commission of SA worker tears a ballot paper at a voting station during local municipal elections. Picture: EPA/KEVIN SUTHERLAND
An Electoral Commission of SA worker tears a ballot paper at a voting station during local municipal elections. Picture: EPA/KEVIN SUTHERLAND

SA is set for a late local government election in 2021, as planning has been set back as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The election has to take place between the beginning of August and the beginning of November 2021, according to constitutionally provided time frames.

Masego Sheburi, deputy CEO of the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC), said in an interview on Friday that an election in the earliest window of the time frame was “increasingly unlikely”. 

This was a result of delays in finalising wards for the election in 2021 by the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB), which has had to postpone public consultations on the wards as a result of the coronavirus.  

SA has been in lockdown for two months, after a state of disaster was declared in March, and all public gatherings have been prohibited. People have been confined to their homes with the exception of going to work and shopping for essentials.

The regulations do not provide for people to leave their houses to vote.   

Sheburi said the MDB has already indicated that it would be able to give the final wards to the IEC in November this year, after it was initially set to be completed in August.

“If they give us the maps in November, it means we must delay our processes by a corresponding period,” Sheburi said.  

 Sheburi said whatever the delays, the IEC must be able to accommodate the elections between August and November. But he said an early August election was no longer feasible and that the IEC must be looking at later in October.  

“Given the delays at the instance of the MDB, an election in the earlier part of the window period is increasingly unlikely,” Sheburi said.  

While the election is set to take place next year, the IEC is also grappling with how to hold by-elections during this period.  A number of by-elections have already been postponed by court order, as it was not possible to hold them during the lockdown.

Sheburi said the IEC has developed a discussion document on voting in by-elections during the time of Covid-19  that still has to be discussed with political parties. The aim is to look at what can be changed to avoid voting stations becoming “an arena of passing the disease”.

“The difficulty is that while voting stations are important, it is just one part of the process. You can have a proper plan at the voting station, but that on its own will not yield by-elections that are free and fair,” Sheburi said.

He also said the IEC has commissioned research to look at whether the ink used to mark a voter’s thumb can cause transmission of the disease.

Sheburi  said the IEC would use the experience of by-elections on a bigger scale. But he emphasised the IEC did not have the infrastructure to allow for voting that does not entail queuing and it was unlikely that type of infrastructure would be available by 2021.

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