Elections are a cornerstone of democracy. Once every five years councillors are elected by the people they are meant to serve. In South Africa most people vote for a party as well as a ward councillor to represent their interests at local level. This guide explains how our municipal elections work, and covers the following:
- Municipal elections
- Who can stand as candidates?
- Seat allocation
- Who will run the elections?
- Who can vote?
- Voter registration
- Election day
- Laws about election campaign conduct
- Rights of voters
- Typical questions from voters
Councils are elected every five years.
There are three main types of electoral systems in the world:
- Proportional representation (PR) – where you vote for a party and the party gets seats according to the percentage of votes it received. Candidates are drawn from a party list. This system protects smaller parties since all votes count - in our national assembly a party with 0.25% of the vote will still get a seat.
- Constituency-based - this system elects an individual to represent an area. It is called the “winner takes all” since only the person who gets most votes is elected and all votes cast for other people count for nothing.
- Mixed – this system combines a PR and a constituency system. There are many different ways to do this.
Our local elections use the mixed system. Half the seats in local and metro councils come from the PR system and half from the constituency (ward) system.
In South Africa there are two main types of elections: one for metro councils and one for local councils (which includes district council elections).
Only registered voters may vote.
In a metropolitan municipality election, each voter will receive a ballot for their ward with the names of the ward candidates. The person receiving most votes in a ward will win that seat. Ward candidates may stand as representatives of parties or as independents. Each voter will also receive a ballot where they can vote for a political party. This is the proportional representation ballot (PR). The parties will then be given seats according to the percentage of votes that they received in the metropolitan area as a whole. Each party has a list of candidates and the councillors are drawn from this list.
Metro councils may also set up sub-councils to serve different parts of their municipality. Sub-councils are not elected directly by voters. Existing councillors are allocated to serve on each sub-council.
In a local municipality, each voter will receive a ballot for their ward with the names of the ward candidates. The person receiving most votes in a ward will win that seat. Ward candidates may stand as representatives of parties or as independents.
Each voter also votes for a political party on a proportional representation ballot. The parties will then be given seats according to the percentage of votes that they received in the area as a whole.
Every voter in a local municipality will also vote for the district council that their local area is part of. The district municipality ballot will have party names on it and the seats will be allocated according to the percentage of votes parties gained in the whole district municipal area.
Not all councillors serving on a district council are directly elected. Only 40% of the seats will be given to parties based on the votes they got on the PR ballot. The remaining 60% of seats on the district council will be allocated to the local councils in that area. Each local council will be given a number of seats and must send councillors to fill those seats. The seats should be filled according to the support that parties have in a specific council. For example, if a local municipality is given 5 seats on the district council and the ANC gained 60% of the seats on the local council, the ANC councillors should fill three of the five seats. The other two seats should be allocated to other parties according to the number of votes they have received.
District management areas (DMAs)
People who live in District Management Areas (game parks and other low population areas) get a PR ballot for the district council and a PR ballot for the DMA. They do not vote for local councils or ward councillors.
Who votes for what?
Metro Council voters:
- one Proportional Representation vote for a party contesting the metro council
- one ward vote for an individual candidate contesting the ward
Local Council voters:
- one Proportional Representation vote for a party contesting the council
- one ward vote for an individual candidate contesting the ward
- one PR vote for district council
District Management: Area voters
- one PR vote for DMA representatives to district council,
- one PR vote parties contesting the district council
Note: in some very small local councils with very few councillors, there may be no wards and only a Local Council PR vote and District Council PR vote.
Who can stand as candidates?
The Constitution says that:
- Candidates must live in the municipal area and must be a citizen who is entitled to vote in the area . (It is not necessary for a ward candidate to live in the ward where they stand but they have to live in the municipality.)
- Candidates may not have been declared un-rehabilitated insolvents (declared bankrupt by a court) or of unsound mind (also by a court order.)
- Candidates may not be people working for the council or employees of another government department who have been excluded by national legislation from standing.
- Any elected public representatives serving in another council or other level of government may not stand (MPs, MPLs and councillors in other municipalities).
- Anyone sentenced to more than 12 months in prison after the end of 1996 may not stand.
The other laws and regulations that apply to candidates are:
- Councillors must be on the voters roll in the municipality where they live
- PR candidates must be nominated by a registered party
- Ward candidates can be nominated by a registered party or, if independent, by 50 registered voters living in the ward
- No-one may stand as an independent in a ward and on a PR list for a party.
- If a party candidate is both a PR and ward candidate, and wins in the ward, they must take up the ward seat.
- A deposit should be paid by parties and independent ward candidates and will be lost if they fail to gain a certain percentage of votes
There are no provisions for candidates to be disqualified because of owing money to the municipality (arrears.)
Replacing councillors after election
Councillors can be disqualified or can resign after election. If they are party representatives, they could also be expelled or resign from the party. The Municipal Structures Act says how to deal with replacing PR and Ward councillors.
PR councillors can be withdrawn and replaced at any time by their party, except during the floor crossing window period. Vacancies are filled from the party list or a supplementary list submitted by the party. If a PR councillor crosses the floor during the window period, they may not be replaced by their party and the party effectively loses a seat.
When a ward councillor resigns or is disqualified, a by-election will be held. If a ward councillor stood with a party symbol next to their name, they must leave their seat if they stop being a member of that party, unless it is during the floor crossing period. An independent who joins a party after election also has to leave their seat. Any ward councillor who crosses the floor and joins a party during the window period, may not be replaced by their party and the party effectively loses a seat.
Allocation of seats
The Constitution says that the council must reflect overall proportionality of all votes cast and this leads to a complicated method of allocating seats. The method for doing this is set out in the Municipal Structures Act:
- A quota of votes needed to gain a seat is worked out by adding the total number of votes cast in that election for PR and party ward candidates and then dividing it by the number of seats on the council.
- All votes cast for a party on the PR ballot and for that party’s candidates on ward ballots are added together.
- Each party’s total is then divided by the quota to see how many seats they are entitled to.
- The number of ward seats already won by that party are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to the party.
- The remainder of seats the party is entitled to are then allocated to the same number of people on the party’s PR list.
- A total of 100 000 votes were cast in Makana Municipality and there is a 10-person council.
- The IFP wins 60 000 of the combined PR and ward votes in Makana. The ANC wins 32 000 and the DA 8 000.
- The quota for each seat is 10 000 votes and therefore the IFP is entitled to 6 seats, the ANC to 3 seats and the DA to 1 seat.
- The IFP wins 4 out of the 5 wards and therefore already has 4 out of the 6 seats they are entitled to. The DA wins one ward and is only entitled to one seat.
- The IFP is given another 2 seats to be filled by people on their PR list. The ANC won no ward seats and therefore gets 3 PR seats. The DA gets no PR seats.
District Council elections
District councillors are elected in three different ways:
- 40% of representatives are elected by all voters in the area on a PR ballot and drawn from party lists
- The remaining 60% are drawn from representatives of local councils (elected by council) and
- Representatives from District Management Areas elected by voters in the DMA on a PR ballot.
The 60% is split between local council representatives and DMA representatives based on the percentage of voters that live in each council or DMA area. The local council representatives will be elected through a list-based election in the council and should reflect the number of seats different parties have. So, if the UDM has one third of the seats in the local council they will probably get one third of that council’s representatives to the district council.
- A District Council in the Free State has 50 seats.
- 20 seats are filled from the party lists after using a PR vote in the whole district.
- The other 30 seats are filled by reps from the 3 local councils and the one District Management Area that fall in the district. The 3 councils get 29 out of the 30 seats and it is split between them based on the percentage of voters they have living in their council area. Within each local council, a list-based election is held for councillors to represent that council on the District Council. A party with half the seats in the local council, will probably get half the reps to the DC.
- The DMA has 2% of the voters and can elect one party rep on a PR ballot.
Who will run the elections at all levels?
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is in charge of managing and supervising the elections. The IEC has five commissioners. The Chief Electoral Officer is the main person responsible for the administration of elections. In every province the IEC has set up an office under a Provincial Election Officer (PEO).
In every local municipality a Municipal Electoral Officers (MEO), appointed by the IEC, organises voting stations, voter registration and runs the elections in that municipality. In most areas the MEO will probably be the municipal manager. In bigger areas someone else can be appointed or delegated to do the work. The MEO is responsible for employing staff and making all the practical arrangements for voter registration and elections.
The MEO will employ election officials for each voting station. The appointments must be presented to the Party Liaison Committee. A few full time staff are already employed by most municipalities to work on elections. All their election related work takes place under the direction of the MEO and the PEO or other IEC structures. The MEO and the full time staff who work in the municipality may not take orders on any election work from the mayor or councillors.
Party Liaison Committees (PLCs)
At all levels the IEC has set up Party Liaison Committees to consult and inform political parties about the arrangements for the elections. The PLCs have no decision-making power but are there to advise the IEC and to deal with conflicts between different parties or between a party and the IEC.
The MEO should chair local PLC meetings.
Who can vote?
All South African citizens over the age of 18 who are registered voters will be allowed to vote in the local elections. On election day you can only vote at the voting station in the voting district (VD) where you registered on the voters roll and you must have a bar-code ID. If you lose your ID you can get a temporary replacement ID called a “Temporary Identity Certificate” which can also be used to vote with if it has not expired.
South Africa is divided into 18 830 voting districts – each one with its own voting station. To vote you have to be on the voters roll for your voting district. On election day only the roll for that district will be at the voting station. If your name is not there, you will not be able to cast a normal vote. (see voters not on the roll, page 18)
Most voters are already registered from past elections. If you are still living in the same voting district where you registered in the 1999, 2000 or 2004 elections, you do not have to register again. The borders of your voting district may have changed and the IEC will inform you with a leaflet if you have to re-register. If you have moved, you should change your registration so you can vote at the voting station in your area.
Registration works like this:
- You need a green ID book with a bar code (issued after 1986) or a temporary ID document
- Go to the voting station on a public registration day (or the municipal office on a normal working day) and fill in a form to show that you live in the area
- A special machine (Zip -Zip) will be available in each voting district - it can read the bar code in your ID book and automatically records the correct information about your name and ID number for the voter’s roll.
- The machine also prints a sticker that will be pasted in your ID book to show that you have registered at that voting station.
- The IEC has the whole voters roll on one national computer and when you register the computer will check if your ID number already appears somewhere else. If it does, the computer will automatically cancel your registration at your old voting district and only accept the latest registration.
A last round of public voter registration will happen on a weekend closer to elections. All voting stations will be opened and you can register at the station in your area. Voter registration is already open and voters can register at the office of the municipal electoral officer (MEO) at the municipal offices. In some areas door-to-door registration is being done by the IEC because voting district boundaries have changed. MEOS together with local Party Liaison Committees may also decide to do targeted registration in areas where there is low registration.
The voters’ roll
The voters’ roll is a list of all the voters in the country and it is broken into separate lists for each voting district. The voters roll will close about three months before the election. Anyone who did not register by then will not be allowed to register.
Voting day and hours
Voting will be for one day only and will take place from 7am to 7pm. There will be between 500 – 3000 voters per voting station and it should be easy to complete the voting in the time allowed. Anyone who is in the queue at 7pm and has not yet been able to vote, must be allowed to vote before the voting station can close.
These steps will be followed in the voting station – it may be changed slightly in regulations that are issued closer to the elections:
- Queue walker checks voter’s ID with Zip-Zip, while voter is in the queue outside, to make sure voter is at the right voting station
- Voter shows ID at the first table inside
- Voter’s name is crossed off the voter’s roll.
- Voter’s hand is examined to see if it has been marked.
- The hand is marked to see that the voter does not vote again. The ID book will also be stamped.
- The voter is given a ballot paper for the local council, ward and district (unless in metro area, then only two ballots).
- An official stamp is put on the back of the ballot papers.
- The voter goes into the voting booth and makes a cross for one party or candidate on each of the ballot papers.
- The voter folds the ballot papers and puts them into the correct ballot boxes. An election official will check to see that the ballots have the stamps on the back before they are placed into the boxes.
If a voter needs help to vote because of disability or sight impairment they can bring someone they trust to vote for them. Illiterate people may ask for help from the presiding officer or another electoral official. If an electoral official helps the voter to vote, two party agents or an observer can watch.
Name not on the voters’ roll
If a voter’s name is not on the roll and they have a sticker in their ID that proves registration for that voting district, they must be allowed to vote. They will be asked to fill in an MEC 7 form and will then vote normally. (This system may change).
Postponing, re-voting or relocating in a specific voting district
The Electoral Act allows for three ways to deal with violence, cheating, loss of materials, intimidation, natural disasters and other factors that could prevent a free and fair election in a particular voting station:
- Postpone: the voting can be interrupted and postponed to another day, as long as it is within seven days of the election date.
- Re-vote: The vote can be cancelled and re-held on another date within seven days of the election date.
- Relocate: the voting station can be moved to another venue where voting can carry on on the same day.
In this election, in most cases, counting will happen at the voting station in. Votes may only be counted in a different central place if this is needed to ensure free and fair elections or if the votes came from a mobile voting station and are taken to a central place for counting.
Provisional results will be announced outside the voting station when counting is finished, and then sent to the IEC through the office of the MEO. The results should reach the MEO within a few hours after the close of voting. From there they are also sent to the IEC at provincial and national level for checking and finalisation.
Laws about election campaigns
Any representative or candidate of a political party has the right to talk to voters in any public or private place as long as it is reasonable. This means that parties can go to places like farms or hostels to talk to the workers who live there. The farmer or boss can refuse permission for you to come onto their property if it is during working hours but they should give permission for you to come at other times. If they refuse, report them to the Municipal Electoral Officer.
Political activities on election day
All political and campaign activities are allowed until midnight on the day before elections. After that no marches, rallies, demonstrations, public meetings or political events may be held. This does not mean that parties are banned from mobilising voters, canvassing or loud-hailing. But they may not do so within the boundaries of a voting station. Loud-hailing should also not be done right outside a voting station.
A special Electoral Court will hear all appeals against IEC decisions and will make the final decisions on all cases related to the Municipal Electoral Act and free and fair elections. Before cases go to the Electoral Court for a hearing, conciliation must be used as a first resort to settle disputes.
Code of Conduct
The same Code of Conduct applies as in all other democratic elections. Political parties that break the Code can be fined, stopped from working in an area, or have their votes in an area cancelled. The individuals who break the Code or commit other offences under the Electoral Act can be fined or jailed.
Anyone who breaks the Code commits a crime and can be prosecuted. A party may also be punished for an individual member or supporter’s behaviour if it can be shown that the party did not urge supporters to abide by the Code and did not take all reasonable steps to stop them from breaking the Code.
Here are the main Do’s and Don’ts of the Code of Conduct:
- encourage all your party members and supporters to be tolerant of other parties
- condemn political violence
- support the right of all parties to campaign freely
- inform the proper authorities of all planned marches and rallies
- actively work with all IEC structures
- co-operate with the police in their investigation of election crime and violence
- use any kind of violence or threats against anyone who supports another party
- remove or destroy any other party’s property, posters or pamphlets
- disrupt another party’s public meeting
- stop other parties from door-to-door work or campaigning in your area
- threaten or stop people who want to attend meetings of other parties
- force people to join your party, attend meetings or donate money
- spread false rumours about another party
- use violent language or urge people to use violence against any party or person
Rights of voters
Voters have the right to participate in free and fair elections. All voters have the right to vote for the party or candidate of their choice in a safe environment. No-one may force or offer rewards for a voter to vote a specific way or stop them from voting.
Voters have the right to secrecy and no-one will know how you vote unless you tell them yourself. Ballot papers have no names or ID numbers on them and cannot be linked to a specific voter.
Voters who cannot see clearly can bring someone they trust to vote for them. Illiterate voters have the right to get assistance from the presiding officer, watched by two party agents.
Typical questions from voters
If I am travelling on election day will I be able to vote?
No. You can only vote at the voting station where you are registered.
What if someone still has a temporary ID because they lost their ID and their proper Identity Document has not arrived?
To vote you need a proper ID document. You can vote with a temporary ID document if it has not expired. Go to the Home Affairs office and try and find out what happened to your ID because maybe it is waiting for you.
When is a vote spoilt?
It is quite difficult to spoil a vote. Any mark that makes the voter’s choice clear is acceptable. It is only a spoilt paper if the voting paper is left blank or the voter makes more than one mark on it, or if the voter writes their name on it. A spoilt paper will not be counted.
What kind of marks will be accepted as a vote?
A cross is definitely the best mark to use, but any other mark that makes the voter’s choice clear will also be accepted. So, if you make a tick or any other sign in the right box next to only one party’s name your vote will be counted.
What about special votes for people who cannot come to the voting station because they are old or sick or disabled?
There are no special votes in local elections.
What about people who are in prison?
Prisoners will not be able to vote in local elections.
What happens if people are still waiting in the queue at closing time?
Anyone who is in the queue by 7pm must be allowed to vote. The presiding officer will declare the voting station closed but must tell people in the queue that they must wait and vote before the officials can go home. No-one new may join the queue after closing time.
Will you be able to wear organisational T-shirts and badges in the voting station?
The voters should be able to wear whatever they like when coming to vote but officials working for the IEC will not be allowed to wear any symbols, T-shirts or badges of political parties. Party agents will be given special signs to show that they are party agents but may not campaign near the voting or in the station or wear party T-shirts or buttons. Candidates may wear whatever they like, but inside the voting station boundary they must cover rosettes or T-shirts with party emblems – put on a jacket or jersey.
Will South Africans living in other countries be allowed to vote?
No. South Africans living or working overseas will not be able to vote in this election.
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