IEC Web site wobbles

Audra Mahlong
By Audra Mahlong, senior journalist
Johannesburg, 23 Apr 2009

Despite spending R3 million to upgrade the Web site's capacity and ensure it can handle any surges in usage, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) site has hit a speed bump.

Following voting yesterday and the beginning of the counting and results processes late last night, many South Africans found themselves unable to rely on the IEC Web site for updates. Twitter posts suggest the site was up and down yesterday. The site was down this morning, with “Service Unavailable” appearing on the Web page. By lunchtime, it was up again.

IEC spokesperson Kate Bapela says the IEC is looking at the problem and would only be able to inform the public on the issue and rectify it, once the commission had determined the cause.

This is not the first time the Web site has experienced glitches. In the first voter registration weekend, the Web site crashed due to surges in users. The IEC responded with promises to increase Web site capacity and improve the site. However, it maintained it was not sure what traffic it could expect on voting day - and the upgrade would only cater to estimated numbers.

Long queues

Despite using technological innovations to improve service on voting day, many voting stations across the country experienced long queues, with some voters queuing for over three hours to cast their ballot.

Several voting stations across the country reported faulty or broken scanners - a problem which lengthened queuing times. Mobile handheld scanners, like the Zip-Zip scanner introduced in 1998, were used to locate and verify people on the voter's roll.

The IEC punted the device as a quick method to help limit the time spent on the voting process. The commission allocated R200 million for the technology budget. A large part of the budget went to the purchase of 30 000 Zip-Zap units, which were introduced to improve efficiency at voting stations and provide voter information.

Results centre

Processes are running smoothly at the Results Operation Centre (ROC) in Pretoria, with no glitches reported since yesterday. The ROC includes a results system technical help-desk, a results problem-resolution authority, an electoral operations 'nerve centre', an IT division and a geographic information system group that will prepare interactive, map-based graphics displays for large projection screens, and an IEC intranet to provincial operations centres.

The ROC was first established for the 1999 elections and focused solely on management and results activities. The centre has since become an integral part of the election results management process and was used in national elections in 2004.

The centre features 450 computer workstations, 300 telephone units, and 22km of data and fibre and telephone cabling. It also has more than 1 000 electricity power points, 200 lights, 2km of network cabling and over 122 offices. The offices are equipped with computers and phones, and the IEC also operates a call centre that provides callers with information regarding registration status, voting location and also election results.

At last count, at the time of publication at 12.45pm today, the ANC was in the lead with over 3.5 million votes (64%), the DA with one million votes (18%) and Cope with 440 000 votes (8%).

Related stories:
All tech set for election day
E-voting a distant reality
IEC Web site fixed