With South Africa’s next national election coming up in 2014, the right of citizens to vote abroad looks set to be written into law. The Electoral Act of 1998 currently only allows government officials, travelling sporting teams and people on business trips or holidays abroad to cast special votes – if they notify the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) within 15 days of the proclamation of the election date. However, in 2009 this stipulation was successfully challenged in court by the Freedom Front Plus, AfriForum and others. The Constitutional Court found in Richter v Minister of Home Affairs and Others that the Electoral Act was unconstitutional and invalid as it prevented South Africans living overseas from voting. This meant that South Africans in the UK and elsewhere were allowed to vote in the 2009 national election. Now the IEC has taken this a step further and proposed amendments to the Electoral Act that would allow people to vote no matter where they are on election day.
Chief electoral officer Mosotho Moepya said at the weekend that the commission hoped the Electoral Amendment Bill, currently before the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, would pass through Parliament and be signed into law by the president soon.
Terry Tselane, deputy chairman of the IEC, said the law would only provide for national votes and that voters would still need to make their mark in their registered provinces for provincial representatives.
“It will be a logistical nightmare for the IEC if people were allowed to vote for provinces anywhere. That would mean each voting station should have extra ballot papers of nine provinces and it would be impossible to account for all of them. This could compromise the integrity of the electoral process,” he said.
However, the Democratic Alliance (DA) believes the Electoral Amendment Bill is still unconstitutional in that it denies overseas citizens the provincial vote.