So Many Questions on local elections

17 April 2016 - 02:00 By Chris Barron

The fate of forthcoming municipal elections hangs in the balance as the nation waits for the Constitutional Court to respond to the IEC ’s request for clarity. Chris Barron asked chief electoral officer Mosotho Moepya . . .Will there be elections in August?Certainly, yes.What if the Constitutional Court rules on May 9 that the voters roll must feature the addresses of all registered voters?We will comply with that. But it has consequences. There are some voters who have addresses, but many others who still do not have a conventional or physical address where they live. That Constitutional Court order would then imply that you must remove them from the voters roll - which we will do. We will not be in contempt of court.And that could be about 16million people?That number will reduce slightly because of the number of people who have come in during registration weekend one and two.But still many millions?Absolutely. I estimate more than 10million.Can you disenfranchise more than 10million registered voters?There are a number of steps we are taking even as we approach the court. We are working hard to source the addresses of voters we have on the roll to ensure that when the court sits on May 9 we will have addresses for a substantial number. But to the extent that there will be others who don't have an address, that concerns us immensely.Can registered voters in a democracy be disenfranchised?That's precisely our argument before the court. One must remember that in the constitution an address is not a requirement to register to vote.Instead of having to disenfranchise millions, might the elections be postponed?The question of postponing an election is not a question in law. There is no provision to postpone because of something like that. That is something we expect the court to clarify. There are an estimated 15million households. Eight million of them don't have an address. But we are required to provide addresses for those people who don't have. Where must they source the addresses? That is the simple point we are putting before the court.Why doesn't the Electoral Court see the matter this way?We believe - respectfully - they have erred. In its judgment [of November last year], the Constitutional Court is saying that in the event a voter does not have an address it is not a requirement for that voter to be rejected. But the Electoral Court says that without that address the election is not valid.Are you confident the Constitutional Court will confirm your interpretation of its judgment?I am confident it will clarify what the correct position of that court is. And we will comply.And disenfranchise 10million-plus voters?We have two applications before the court. The second application says that, given that there are so many people without addresses, and their rights are vested, we are requesting the court to allow the elections to proceed, and for us to comply with all addresses by June 2020.Have you tried hard enough?We have. Once the judgment of the court was issued we have sought to comply.There are several independent institutions in South Africa that are good at this kind of thing. Have you asked them to help you?We are working with them extensively.Only since November last year?We have accelerated that in the wake of the Electoral Court decision.Is it possible to have a fair election without a voters roll that has the addresses of those who vote?That is not a constitutional requirement. We have had elections without addresses on the voters roll - they have been declared free and fair and I do not see why it would stop us from having free and fair elections.What about gerrymandering?Voters may commit fraud. But there are sufficient steps in the law to object against voters who are improperly registered. Those processes are effective.How can you ensure that people voting in a particular area are qualified to, if you don't have addresses?The Constitutional Court said all we have to do is be satisfied that a voter votes in the area where he is registered.What do you think would be the political and social repercussions if you were to disenfranchise millions of voters?The court will decide that. I am very happy it's not my decision. In our court papers we are clearly making an argument that we would not wish to see the court disenfranchise people. Our argument is that no one should be disenfranchised.Can it be a credible election if about a third of the voters are disenfranchised?We believe this will be determined by the Constitutional Court after careful consideration of the fundamental issues involved. This is something only the Constitutional Court can pronounce on - not me. It is the court that says: "Even if you disenfranchise these people the elections will be credible." If they say so, they have settled it. I have fears about that credibility, but if the court says "It is settled in our view", it's OK...

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