Health and safety protocols will change to protect voters and staff from contracting Covid-19, says the Electoral Commission of SA. Picture: THE SUNDAY TIMES/ALAISTER RUSSELL
Health and safety protocols will change to protect voters and staff from contracting Covid-19, says the Electoral Commission of SA. Picture: THE SUNDAY TIMES/ALAISTER RUSSELL

The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) will need R70m it has not budgeted for to organise registration for 2021’s local government elections in adherence with Covid-19 safety protocols, according to chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo.

Mamabolo said the commission will have to redirect funds from other areas to afford the R70m needed to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect its staff at 23,000 registration stations across the country.

The commission is forced to go this route, he said, because it understands the country’s fiscal constraints.

In December, the IEC will, for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic, conduct by-elections in 95 wards across the country.

Mamabolo said, working with the department of health, the IEC has developed a framework of safety protocols for operations under lockdown. However, it will come at a cost, which may lead to the it having to reduce the number of personnel at voting stations to cut expenses.

“The financial implication is quite a significant expenditure and was not budgeted for because we could not have contemplated the Covid-19 pandemic three years ago when the budget was done,” said Mamabolo.

“Certainly, for next year’s registration weekend and next year’s election, the cost of the required PPE will run into several millions.

“Our estimation of the cost of the required PPE for the registration weekend is approximately R70m for the 23,000 voting stations across the country. It will be even bigger for the elections, unless the trajectory of the coronavirus is reduced significantly. Then we will have to revise the measures necessary at the station,” he said.

Several other changes are necessary in the voting system to ensure voting stations do not become super-spreaders of the virus. Starting with the by-elections in December, the commission will do away with pen-type indelible ink. This will be replaced with “an applicator that is a single-use item rather than everybody being touched by the same dispenser”.

The local government elections in 2021, said Mamabolo, would, in all likelihood, go ahead with or without the coronavirus. Political parties that have called for the elections to be postponed or synchronised with the national elections may have to rethink their proposal, he said.

Mamabolo believes synchronising the local elections and general elections would be tricky and border on undermining the principles of democracy.

“A synchronised election is a constitutional possibility, but ... you do not achieve that by extending a term of a government in office,” he said. “Democracy demands you do not stay in office longer than the duration for which you were voted in, and the current local governments were voted in for a five-year term, which expires in 2021.

“Therefore, it would be undesirable, constitutionally speaking, to extend that term.”

Mamabolo said the most viable route would be to shorten a term of office should the country decide to merge national and local elections.

He said the synchronisation of elections debate is a national policy issue that should be tackled with research-based views, not emotions. “In such a policy debate we must answer the question about what impact there is likely to be on local democracy. Is local democracy going to be subsumed into national policy issues when you synchronise?” 

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