Election outcome should always be open for discussion


Election outcome should always be open for discussion

Despite the MK Party's claims, there is no evidence of vote rigging on May 29. That doesn't mean we can't discuss the accuracy of the outcome, writes PIET CROUCAMP.


JACOB Zuma and his associates stole South Africa blind in a nine-year feeding frenzy euphemistically called state capture. In 2006, the Nkandla crooner appeared in court on rape charges. He was acquitted. I was disappointed. On June 29 2021, the Constitutional Court sentenced him to 15 months in prison for contempt of court after he refused to appear before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. He escaped a well-deserved stay behind bars when he was granted leniency by ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa.

He and his rogue comrades are now acting as politicians under the guise of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), a paramilitary organisation that has an honourable history for many who lived through the struggle years. They are accusing the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) of deliberately corrupting the outcome of the 2024 elections. I have no doubt that the IEC's inefficiencies and incompetence denied many thousands of people the right to vote. But how much substance is there in these suspicions and accusations?

The MK Party's election rigging allegations are based on the suggestion that “John Steenhuisen, the DA leader, can't be more popular than Zuma". Nkosinathi Nhleko, the party’s national organiser, says the IEC could not lawfully declare the election results free and fair because there was “clear evidence” of massive fraud, rigging and manipulations. That was also the argument in court papers for the party’s urgent application in the Electoral Court this past week.

The African Transformation Movement (ATM), a faith-based political party, has also petitioned the Electoral Court in Bloemfontein to declare that the election outcomes were not free and fair. It argues: “The IEC was obliged to act when there was a large scale of unlawful conduct or activities reported. Its manner in how it acted on the objectives has tainted its credibility to administer free and fair elections.”

On social media, the voices of reason are few and far between. If you stumble across one, you'd better interview him or her. What got me thinking for the purposes of this article was Michael Atkins’ remark on X: “Once we settle the fact that there is no substance to the grand election rigging allegations, are we willing to discuss how accurate the results actually are?”

Atkins has been involved in several key analyses and reports on South African elections, focusing on issues such as electoral reform. He collaborated with the Institute of Race Relations on multiple reports, including “The Road to Electoral Reform". He is known for his critical views on proposed electoral reforms, arguing that they may lead to disproportional outcomes and could be unconstitutional. He advocates  a more inclusive and rational electoral process to ensure fair representation.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Michael Atkins
Michael Atkins
Image: © KAYA 959

PC: The IEC chair insists election rigging is “impossible"?

MA: There is a very delicate balance between dealing with spurious claims of rigging on one hand and complacency on the other.

PC: As far as being ready to organise an event such as the 2024 national and provincial elections, did the IEC do a worse job this time round than in the past?

MA: The test is whether the proven faults change the outcome. There might be single-seat errors or there might not be. My analysis could lead, at most, to individual seat changes. Any other conclusion is mistaken or cynical. In that respect we might have had worse outcomes in previous elections.

PC: Well, you may say that, but I saw a list of voting stations where more people voted than the number registered. At Grootvlei Sports Club, there were only 329 registered voters but 961 voted in the regional ballot. At Phomolong, Block 1, there were 96 registered voters but more than 260 people voted on all three ballots. The same pattern occurred at more than 30 voting stations. Could that not be the result of a stuffing of ballot boxes?

MA: With the change to section 24a of the Electoral Act, it is much harder to have more than the number of registered voters turning up at a particular voting station. If it does happen that there are more ballots in the box than registered voters, you could flag it as if something is very wrong with the result. But widespread ballot stuffing and the manipulation of the results are both highly unlikely. I have not seen convincing evidence for that type of fraud or corruption.

PC: You argued that there is a difference between “rigging" and “electoral fraud”. You, like the IEC chair, suggest that rigging is nearly impossible in our context and that we have good systems in place?

MA: I have been looking at election results for 25 years. The accounting by the IEC is not as tight as it should be. My understanding indicates that there are problems, but these types of problems have been around since 1999. It is just that nobody has been interested in them before. While it does not change the overall outcome, I call this a systemic problem. Changes to the electoral regime now prevent this (the new tablets and the law change to require voting where you are registered), but the dismissal by the IEC of the original claims of administrative inadequacy was deeply unconvincing.

PC: What are your views on the claims made by the MKP? There is quite a lot of fine-sounding terminology in its court papers, with reference to an expert report that purportedly exposes great failings.

MA: While it is necessary to check the reasoning of the MKP fully and duplicate its results, my initial view is that it is difficult to find facts that substantiate an overall rerun of the elections. There is no basis in law to set aside a whole election because it feels like the errors are so widespread".

PC: What do you make of the argument about millions of uncounted votes?

MA: The MKP application is pure fantasy and the 9 million uncounted votes is nonsense. The data I am seeing does not show anything like the numbers claimed. I can see cases where the MKP should have been given more votes, but the same is true for many parties, which then tends to cancel out in the proportional representation calculations. I will be interested to see the full evidence in court. The appropriate response is a painstaking case-by-case analysis on the individual merits. Until we see this report, it is difficult to judge the real merits of the case. Whatever flaws there might be are not the same as legal grounds for overturning an election.

PC: Equally, substantive complaints must be investigated and not swept under the carpet. Would you say the IEC explained the obvious problem areas timeously?

MA: The bottom line is that any claims of irregularities or rigging must be accompanied by objective evidence. Ordinary electoral fraud, mostly at a local level, happens anywhere in the world, and the quality of our verification and audit becomes the key factor. While the IEC does very well in accommodating party agents and independent observers, the fact is that we do not have enough and there is not enough coordination.

PC: Unfortunately, it is possible to show multiple instances from every previous election where fraud or errors have not been detected or acted upon.

MA: Yes, there remain major questions about the saga of casting multiple votes in 2019. There is the 2021 case in Umgeni, where all ward votes were awarded" to a single candidate. Or Julius Malema's 2014 complaint in Alexandra where a zero replaced about 100 votes. I maintain that at the time there were individual seat-allocation errors in 13 municipalities. I helped to get one of them corrected. Parties in the others did not act on the information given.


PC: What evidence do we have of obvious mistakes and miscalculations?

MA: Although claims of rigging lack evidence, there are errors in the recording of results. At Rosslyn Primary in Tshwane, there appear to be multiple instances that are too small, individually, to flag, but which cannot all be correct. Merlewood Primary School in Port Shepstone has five parties with zero provincial votes recorded, despite getting national and regional votes. At Impala Primary School in Kempton Park, the numbers of votes cast cannot be correct. Either party results were captured incorrectly or votes were in the wrong pile.

PC: So let me ask you this: what exactly is the real percentage that the ANC got in this election in terms of the National Assembly?

MA: 39.79%

PC: So why does the IEC webpage indicate 40.18%?

MA: Sloppiness. They don't have a good feel for numbers. They should have been displaying the combined national and regional ballot total because that is what determines the National Assembly, but they didn’t.

PC: Is it possible to have an AI system that can red-flag issues earlier, rather than in retrospect?

MA: Obviously, yes. I have suggested such at a number of fora, without much success.

PC: May I ask just one other question. How do you make a living then?

MA: I don't.

♦ VWB ♦

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