Electoral commission granted more time to finalise voters' addresses
The Constitutional Court on Thursday gave the Electoral Commission of South Africa until November 30, 2019 to have on the national voters’ roll all addresses that were reasonably available after December 17, 2003.
The law requires that the commission have the addresses of all voters registered after that date.
Thursday's judgment followed an urgent application by the Electoral Commission in May to extend the suspension of an order that the Constitutional Court made in June 2016.
In the 2016 order, the court declared that the commission’s failure to record all available voters’ addresses on the national common voters’ roll was inconsistent with its rule of law obligations.
In its 2016 judgment, the court suspended the declaration it had made until June 2018.
Although the commission had made substantial progress in garnering addresses to fulfil its obligations, a significant shortfall remained.
This prompted the commission to approach the court in May for an extension of the 2016 order until November 2019, months after the general election which will take place in May next year.
The matter has its genesis in the long-running dispute concerning the registration process in the Tlokwe local municipality, where a number of unsuccessful candidates challenged the outcome of by-elections because the voters’ roll was incorrect and unreliable.
There were complaints that many out-of-district voters were bused in.
In its judgment in 2015, the court declared that when registering a voter to vote in a particular district, the commission was obliged to obtain sufficient particularity of the voter’s address to ensure that the voter was ordinarily resident in that voting district.
However, in February 2016, in another by-election in Tlokwe, independent candidates discovered that the voters’ roll had omitted the physical addresses of thousands of voters, prompting the 2016 judgment by the Constitutional Court.
In its June 2016 judgment, the court also ordered the commission to file six-monthly reports on its progress in obtaining addresses.
In its judgment on Thursday, the majority of the court said the commission had shown dramatic gains in recording the addresses of voters in its first report.
"Since March 2016, the percentage of registered voters with complete addresses had more than doubled. From 34%, the proportion had grown to no less than 72%."
However, in its second report, the commission recorded minimal progress and explained there had been no general voter-harvesting weekend between January and June 2017.
When it asked for an extension of the 2016 order in May, the commission said a total of 21% of registered voters would still have an incomplete, generic or no address.
In the majority judgment written by judge Edwin Cameron, he said the commission had acknowledged that there were registered voters’ addresses available to the commission which it had not yet recorded.
In granting the extension, the court also ordered the commission to furnish reports every two months, starting on January 31 next year, setting out the number of outstanding post-December 2003 addresses obtained and the number still outstanding.
The reports are also required to set out steps to be taken to obtain these addresses.
In a minority judgment written by Justice Leona Theron, in which acting Justice Xola Petse concurred, Theron said the commission had acted reasonably in its attempt to obtain and record all reasonably available addresses.
"There is no justification or need for the extension of suspension sought," Theron said.
IEC spokesperson Kate Bapela said outside the court that the commission would study the judgment to understand its implications.
"It comes at a time when we are full steam ahead, planning for the final voter registration weekend on January 26-27," Bapela said.