Thanks largely to a robust campaign by participative democracy group DearSA, the government has decided to ditch two clauses in the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill – which would have allowed a change in voting methods.
These clauses would have allowed a switch from the current paper ballots to electronic voting – potentially sparking the kind of controversy and allegations of fraud now surrounding the recent US Presidential election.
Cybersecurity experts and lawyers have warned of the potential for hacking such electronic systems, and many have cautioned against adopting systems prone to abuse by malign actors.
On Wednesday, 2 December 2020, the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs approved the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill and said will recommend to the National Assembly to adopt it – but without the disputed clauses 14 and 21 which would have empowered the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) to prescribe a different voting method.
“The committee agreed that voting method is a policy matter that cannot be left to the IEC alone to decide, even though the IEC had mentioned that the intention was to only allow for testing of such alternatives,” says a press release issued by Parliament this week.
Parliament acknowledges the role played by DearSA in having these clauses removed from the Bill. It notes the concerns raised by members of the public in the 12,305 submissions received.
The Electoral Laws Amendment Bill seeks to amend three pieces of legislation:
· the Electoral Commission Act, 1996;
· the Electoral Act, 1998; and,
· the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act, 2000.
These amendments were deemed necessary to prepare for the forthcoming general local government elections in 2021.
DearSA director Rob Hutchinson says removal of the concerning clauses is as a direct result of the work done by DearSA and the IRR – who brought attention to potentially disruptive changes that could lead to future disputes in election outcomes.
“The last thing we want in SA is to have election results disputed, such as we are currently seeing in the US. There are grave concerns over electronic voting methods”.
While all voting methods have potential for fraud and error, the comments on the DearSA platform around this campaign suggest the existing paper ballot method is the most reliable method we have, since it leaves a paper trail and auditing the results is therefore easier.
“This is a great victory for participative democracy in SA, and we want to thank the thousands of people who took the time to understand and comment on the proposed changes to the law.”