All you need to know about the election

With the local elections being held next week, many voters may be uncertain about the voting process and, if they are not traditional party supporters they may still be wondering where to place their cross. Will the party and the councillor they vote for best represent their interests?

The local election is your opportunity to vote for a representative that will best serve your community as opposed to the general elections when parties stand for election based on their general manifestos.

There are 37 parties standing for election in the city. Election day, Wednesday August 3, is a public holiday. Hours of voting are from 7am to 7pm, although voters who are already in the queue by 7pm must be allowed to cast their vote.

What are you voting for?

Municipal elections, held every five years, are to elect councillors who will be responsible for governing a municipality for the next five years.

Metropolitan voters will get two ballot papers, one to vote for a party for the metropolitan council and a second ballot in which you vote for a ward candidate.

All municipalities are governed by municipal councils. The councils of metropolitan and local municipalities are elected by a system of proportional representation. Each sub-council has a number of wards and each ward is represented by one councillor.

Your local councillors will serve on the town, city, metropolitan or district councils; they are the people who deliver the needs of your neighbourhood and the most effective tool you have in holding government accountable for the matters that directly affect you. It’s your constitutional right to have, for example, a safe environment, hygiene, solid waste removal, new roads, water and other infrastructures. It’s local government that determines what services you get for the rates you pay.

In other words, it’s the local government that ensures actual service delivery, thus making the upcoming elections one of the most important since our first democratic election in 1994, in light of criticism of service delivery and ensuing protests that have been prevalent in the last few years.

At a workshop conducted for the staff of Cape Community Newspapers (publishers of the Bulletin) Courtney Sampson, the Western Cape’s chief electoral officer, said there are 402 wards being contested throughout the province, of which 116 are in the metro area. On election day, the IEC will have 20 000 people working for them, to hopefully ensure that everything runs smoothly at all the polling stations.

Many people, said Mr Sampson, are concerned about what happens on election day, particularly if they live in areas where there are hotly contested wards and they are also concerned about how “free and fair” the counting of the votes will be.

According to Mr Sampson, the IEC has done everything possible to ensure the process is streamlined and, once voting closes at each station, each process is carefully checked and audited and the counting of the votes takes place at each voting station with all votes cast on the special voting days and on election day being counted together.

Counting of votes

There is a presiding officer at each voting station, responsible for the voting and counting process at his or her station and he or she has to ensure orderly conduct during the voting and then co-ordinate and supervise the counting of the votes and the determination of the result.

Counting takes place in the presence of observers and party agents and/or independent candidate agents who will check that the counting is done correctly and fairly.

Included in the protocol for the counting, the presiding officer becomes the counting officer and the deputy presiding officer becomes the deputy counting officer.

During the counting, the voting station’s doors are locked; no one may leave or enter and cellphones must be switched off, except for that of the counting officer.

After announcing the procedures and rules, the numbered and sealed ballot boxes are opened, the ballots unfolded and sorted and reconciled and then ballots are counted, checked and bundled and the recorded votes entered onto a results slips in duplicate by the counting officer and signed off by the deputy counting officer.

Then the one results slip is sealed in a tamper-evident bag and sent to the municipal electoral office where the results are verified and then scanned, captured and transmitted to the electoral commission’s central results system and the other copy of the results slip is affixed outside the door of the voting station.

The results

The IEC must announce the final results and seat allocation for metropolitan and local councils within seven days of election day.

Half the council seats are allocated to the directly elected ward councillors and the other half are designated to political parties on the basis of the results of the proportional representation (PR) paper.

The PR allocation takes into account how many ward seats a party has already won, to ensure that the final number of seats a party has does not exceed the percentage of the vote that they won. As the IEC explains, for example, if a party has won 50 percent of the wards and 50 percent of the PR votes, then that party will not win any proportional seats.

When the voting has been counted and people get back to life and reality, said Mr Sampson, the aftermath of the election is that after all the campaigning and political debate “we will still be South Africans”.

“It’s an election, not a war and we cannot do damage to our national pride – we need to work together. National pride remains imperative and our patriotism must not suffer.”

He added: “We will all have read of the negativity and the criticism and the alienation of some communities and voting dishonestly (giving for example a fraudulent address) is a disgrace.

“We fail sometimes as a nation to be grateful for what we have achieved. And in the end there are those among us who struggle in their daily survival.

“The candidates and the electorate need to be mindful they are the ones seeking the justice.”

* To find out more and to ascertain your correct voting station go http://maps.election.elections.org.za/vsfinder/ and search with your street address. Alternatively SMS your ID number to 32810 (charged at R1) to receive an SMS of your voting station details.

Call 0800 11 8000, which is a toll free number from a landline, between 7am and 9pm or you can visit www.elections.org.za