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IEC outlines tech innovation in run-up to elections

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With the 2021 local government elections now confirmed to be going ahead later this year, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has revealed the “key innovations” that will feature during the voting period.

In its presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs on its state of readiness for the elections, the IEC revealed that new voter management devices are being procured ahead of the upcoming elections.

The new voter management devices will replace the Zip-Zip scanners, which have been a feature of elections in SA for many years.

In November 2019, the independent electoral body announced it was looking to procure new voter registration devices, saying they would replace the ageing existing registration devices.

The mobile handheld scanners were initially introduced in 1998, and used to improve efficiency at voting stations and verify people on the voters’ roll. In 2009, it was revealed the IEC allocated a large portion of its technology budget to purchase 30 000 Zip-Zap units.

This week, the IEC said to the portfolio committee: “New generation technology will allow for enhanced voter registration and monitoring of voter participation in real-time.”

It says the tech will allow: “The ability to capture an address or place of residence during registration and to verify the address against ward boundaries.”

It will also serve as an “online real-time voters’ roll on election day to further prevent multiple voting and to provide further demographic details of voter participation”.

Turning to other tech systems, the IEC said the public Web site and app will be revamped for improved navigation and communications.

Initially launched in 2014, the IEC app aims to inform and educate South African citizens and provide information such as results. The app is available for Android, Apple and Windows smart devices.

In the run-up to the 2016 local government elections, the IEC was already touting updating the app to keep it relevant, as well as providing up-to-date election information for voters.

In addition to the revamped app and site, the IEC stated that a public reporting app for disinformation on social media is also on the cards.

Furthermore, the portfolio committee was told the IEC plans to introduce e-learning modules for training of election staff. “Approximately 58 000 electoral staff are recruited and trained for the registration events and plus/minus 207 000 for voting day.”

As South Africa is still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, some political parties have called for the elections to be postponed.

However, the electoral body has stated the Constitution makes no provision for postponement of the elections.

It says the local government elections will take place between 3 August and 1 November. The final election date will be proclaimed by cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma closer to the time.

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