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Elections and Voting

The word votum in Latin means (amongst things similar) ‘a vow, wish, dedication’. This is where we get the word ‘vote’, and it came to be so used in the mid 15th Century as a formal expression of one’s wish or choice with regard to a proposal, candidate etc.1

New Zealand was the first country in the world to allow women the right to vote in political elections, in 1893.2 Switzerland, meanwhile, for all its sophistication, only granted women the right to vote in national (federal) elections in 1971.3 The United Nations recognises the right to vote as a basic human right,4 as do many human rights advocacy groups. Section 19(3) of our Constitution entrenches this right for every adult citizen of South Africa.5

The Electoral Act 19986 follows on from this, and provides the mechanics for regulating all political elections in South Africa. The Electoral Commission, established under Act 51 of 1996, administers the Electoral Act.7

A. Voter intimidation and voters’ rights

  1. It is a criminal offence to compel or influence, by unlawful means, any person to do any of the following things:
    • to register as a voter;8
    • not to register as a voter;9
    • to vote;10
    • not to vote;11
    • to vote for any particular party or candidate;12
    • not to vote for any particular party or candidate;13
    • to support any party or candidate;14
    • not to support any party or candidate;15
    • to attend and participate in any political meeting, march, demonstration or other political event;16 or
    • not to attend and participate in any political meeting, march, demonstration or other political event.17
  2. It is an offence to prevent any of the following persons from gaining reasonable access to voters, whether in a public or private place:
    • any representative of a registered party or of a candidate;18
    • any candidate in an election;19
    • any member, employee or officer of the Commission;20
    • the Chief Electoral Officer;21
    • any person appointed by an accredited observer;22 or
    • any person accredited to provide voter education.23
  3. If you prevent the holding of any political meeting, march, demonstration or other political event by unlawful means, it is a crime.24

  4. It is a crime to prevent anyone from exercising a right conferred by the Act.25

  5. Any person, knowing that another person is not entitled to be registered as a voter, who persuades him that he is entitled to be registered as a voter, commits an offence.26

  6. It is also an offence to represent, to anyone else, that that person is entitled to be registered as a voter.27

  7. If you know that another person is not entitled to vote, it is a crime to assist, compel or persuade that other person to vote, or to represent to anyone else that that other person is entitled to vote.28

  8. It is a crime to publish any false information with the intention of:
    • disrupting or preventing an election;29
    • creating hostility, or fear in order to influence the conduct or outcome of an election;30 or
    • influencing the conduct or outcome of an election.31
  9. Any person who interferes with a voter’s right to secrecy, whilst casting a vote, commits a crime.32

B. Electoral officers and the IEC33

  1. If you interfere with the independence or impartiality of the Commission or any member, employee or officer of the Commission, or the Chief Electoral Officer you commit an offence.34

  2. If you prejudice any person because of any (past, present or anticipated) performance by him of a function in terms of the Act, it is an offence.35

  3. Similarly, it is a criminal offence to advantage, or promise to advantage, a person in exchange for that person not performing a function in terms of the Act.36

  4. If you are required to furnish any information for any purpose in terms of the Act, you commit an offence if you make a statement knowing that it is false; or without believing on reasonable grounds that the statement is true.37

  5. It is an offence to disclose any information about voting or the counting of votes except as permitted by the Act.38

  6. Similarly, it is a crime to open any ballot box, or any container sealed in terms of the Act (or even break its seal) unless permitted under the Act.39

  7. It is an offence to refuse or fail to give effect to a lawful direction, instruction or order of the Commission, or a member, employee or officer of the Commission, or the Chief Electoral Officer.40

  8. If you obstruct or hinder the Commission, or its members or employees, or a person appointed by an accredited observer, in the exercise of their powers or the performance of their duties, you commit an offence.41

C. One man (only) one vote

  1. If you apply to be registered as a voter in the name of another person (whether living, dead or fictitious) you commit an offence.42

  2. You may also not apply for a ballot paper at a voting station in the name of any other person and if you do, it is a crime.43

  3. If you are not entitled to vote (whether in an election at all, or at a particular voting station), it is a criminal offence to do so.44

  4. It is a crime to cast more votes than you are entitled to.45

  5. Any person who impersonates:

    • a representative of a registered party or of a candidate;46
    • a candidate in an election;47
    • a member, employee or officer of the Commission;48
    • the Chief Electoral Officer;49
    • a person appointed by an accredited observer;50 or
    • a person accredited to provide voter education,51

    commits an offence.

D. Election materials

  1. Except as permitted in terms of the Act, or authorised by the Chief Electoral Officer, it is an offence to:
    • print, manufacture or supply any voting or election material;52
    • remove or conceal any voting or election material;53 or
    • damage or destroy any voting or election material.54
  2. It is an offence to use the voters’ roll, or any voting or election material, for a purpose other than an election purpose.55

  3. From the date on which an election is called, to the date when the result of the election is declared, you may not deface or unlawfully remove any billboard, placard or poster published by a registered party or candidate, and you commit an offence if you do.56

  4. From the date on which an election is called, until the result is declared, it is a crime to print, publish or distribute any printed matter which does not state, clearly, the full name and address of the printer and publisher.57

  5. If an article in any publication originates from a party, or any of its officials, members, or supporters, or a candidate (or his supporters) and is to be paid for, the article must bear a heading saying ‘advertisement’. Anyone who prints, publishes or distributes the publication in contravention of this provision commits an offence.58

E. Electoral Code Of Conduct

  1. Prior to national and provincial elections, the Electoral Commission publishes an Electoral Code of Conduct. This binds all parties entered in the election. It includes a list of prohibited conduct, including:
    • using language which provokes violence;
    • intimidation of candidates or voters;
    • publishing false information about other candidates or parties;
    • plagiarising any other party’s symbols, name or acronyms;
    • offering any inducement or reward to a person to vote for a party;
    • destroying, removing or defacing posters of other parties.59
  2. Any person, or party which contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of the Code, commits an offence.60

F. Voting day!

  1. It is a crime to hold or take part in any political event on voting day.61 Other than voting, that is.

  2. It is also an offence to engage in any political activity inside the boundary of a voting station.62

  3. During the prescribed hours for an election, anyone who prints, publishes or distributes the result of an exit poll63 commits an offence.64

  1. www.etymonline.com – ‘vote’. Votum is actually the past participle of the verb vovere, which means to promise or dedicate. 

  2. Wikipedia – ‘Women’s suffrage in New Zealand’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage_in_New_Zealand

  3. http://history-switzerland.geschichte-schweiz.ch/chronology-womens-right-vote-switzerland.html ‘The Long Way to Women’s Right to Vote’. 

  4. http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/ – ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 21. 

  5. This includes prisoners and citizens living abroad. 

  6. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 18 of 2013. 

  7. Section 4. 

  8. Section 87(1)(a)i read with section 97. 

  9. Section 87(1)(a)i read with section 97. 

  10. Section 87(1)(a)ii read with section 97. 

  11. Section 87(1)(a)ii read with section 97. 

  12. Section 87(1)(a)iii read with section 97. 

  13. Section 87(1)(a)iii read with section 97. 

  14. Section 87(1)(a)iv read with section 97. 

  15. Section 87(1)(a)iv read with section 97. 

  16. Section 87(1)(a)v read with section 97. 

  17. Section 87(1)(a)v read with section 97. 

  18. Section 87(1)(e)i read with section 97. 

  19. Section 87(1)(e)ii read with section 97. 

  20. Section 87(1)(e)iii read with section 97. 

  21. Section 87(1)(e)iv read with section 97. 

  22. Section 87(1)(e)v read with section 97. 

  23. Section 87(1)(e)vi read with section 97. 

  24. Section 87(1)(f) read with section 97. 

  25. Section 87(2) read with section 97. 

  26. Section 87(3)(a) read with section 97. 

  27. Section 87(3)(b) read with section 97. 

  28. Section 87(4)(a) and (b) read with section 97. 

  29. Section 89(2)(a) read with section 97. 

  30. Section 89(2)(b) read with section 97. 

  31. Section 89(2)(c) read with section 97. 

  32. Section 90(1) read with section 97. 

  33. The Independent Electoral Commission. 

  34. Section 87(1)(b) read with section 97. 

  35. Section 87(1)(c) read with section 97. 

  36. Section 87(1)(d) read with section 97. 

  37. Section 89(1)(a) and (b) read with section 97. 

  38. Section 90(2)(a) read with section 97. 

  39. Section 90(2)(b) read with section 97. 

  40. Section 93(1) read with section 97. 

  41. Section 93(2) read with section 97. 

  42. Section 88(a) read with section 97. 

  43. Section 88(b) read with section 97. 

  44. Section 88(c) read with section 97. 

  45. Section 88(d) read with section 97. 

  46. Section 88(e)i read with section 97. 

  47. Section 88(e)ii read with section 97. 

  48. Section 88(e)iii read with section 97. 

  49. Section 88(e)iv read with section 97. 

  50. Section 88(e)v read with section 97. 

  51. Section 88(e)vi read with section 97. 

  52. Section 91(1)a read with section 97. 

  53. Section 91(1)b read with section 97. 

  54. Section 91(1)c read with section 97. 

  55. Section 91(1)d read with section 97. 

  56. Section 92 read with section 97. 

  57. Section 107(4) read with section 107(2). 

  58. Section 107(4) read with section 107(3). 

  59. See www.elections.org.za – ‘Signing of the Code of Conduct’. 

  60. Section 94 read with section 97. 

  61. Section 108(a) read with section 97. 

  62. Section 108(b) read with section 97. 

  63. This is when people are asked as they leave the polling station for what party or candidate they voted. 

  64. Section 109 read with section 97.