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Electronic voting for next elections?

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South Africans could find electronic voting booths at the 2014 general elections, according to president Kgalema Motlanthe, speaking this weekend during the final election results presentation.

However, he noted that suspicions have to be overcome, including those of his own party, the African National Congress (ANC).

At the announcement of the final results for this year's national and provincial elections at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) headquarters on Saturday, Motlanthe indicated serious consideration should be given to using electronic means for future elections.

“In these times with electronics, we should be looking at conducting future elections using electronic means,” the president said.

However, he indicated this would be a contentious issue: “I know at least one political party that has a great aversion to electronic voting.” Motlanthe's comments were greeted by shaking of heads and nervous laughter, mainly from the ANC members of the audience, including president in waiting Jacob Zuma, ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema and ANC stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Motlanthe went on to say electronic voting was used in a number of other countries and made reference to India, which is currently conducting its own national elections. “There it is taking a month with electronic means ... otherwise it would take so much longer,” he said.

Easing into hi-tech

IEC chairperson Brigalia Bam said, during the event, that this was the first time the commission had used expensive IT systems to help with the processing of ballots that were cast at almost 20 000 voting stations across the country.

Daniel Silke, an independent political commentator, says the use of e-voting in SA is the way forward and would help overcome many of the logistical problems the IEC faced during the 22 May elections.

These problems included stations running out of ballot papers, the cumbersome ballot papers, and security issues, such as the voting materials, including papers and boxes, which went missing in Mpumalanga.

“Electronic voting would be a good thing. However, it will need the buy-in of all political parties, including that of the ANC,” he notes.

Silke says it was ironic that the ANCYL strongly opposed using any form of electronic voting during the party's Polokwane convention in 2007 and it seems to be highly suspicious of the process.

“A possible way forward would be to have both a manual and electronic method operating side-by-side for a while to get voters used to it and to iron out kinks in the system,” he says.

Wait and see

The IEC has already indicated that while the increased use of technology in voting is encouraging, it would not implement an e-voting system until it had proved to be reliable in other countries.

According to the IEC, electronic voting is too costly and the absence of paper records in voting and verification systems would result in a complete loss of hundreds or thousands of votes. It says that until it could be verified that e-voting machines are recording votes as intended, and election officials could conduct recounts, SA could not implement electronic voting.

Last week, the Republic of Ireland binned an electronic voting system that cost the country 51 million euros (about R600 million), after the system failed to prove it was secure and the important audit trail of votes was not considered to be accurate enough.

Overseas media reports said Ireland would revert back to a pencil and paper system with which voters are more comfortable.

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

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