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It has commonly been believed in SA that voter turnout in national elections has been fairly high when compared with other countries, among them the UK, US and France.

To a mathematician like myself, “voter turnout” is not a very precise term. What exactly does it mean? And how is it calculated?

It has commonly been believed in SA that voter turnout in national elections has been fairly high when compared with other countries, among them the UK, US and France. To a mathematician like myself, “voter turnout” is not a very precise term. What exactly does it mean? And how is it calculated? After the recent national and provincial elections, I drew from several definitions and understandings of “voter turnout” to crunch the numbers and work out what the country’s real voter turnout was. The results suggest that, when measured either as a percentage of the voting-eligible population or as a percentage of the voting-age population, SA’s voter turnout has been worryingly low by international standards — not just in the 2019 polls, but for the last few elections. For instance, by one measure — voting-age population, or simply the number of people living within the country who are of voting age — voter turnout in the 2019 elections was 46.7%. This places it among the lowest in the ...

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