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IEC to present e-voting, e-registration findings next month

South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is to present the findings of an investigation into e-registration and e-voting practices worldwide next month, but the chief electoral officer remains unsure as to whether either should be implemented.

Mosotho Moepya told HumanIPO seminars will be held on March 11 and 12 to present and debate the findings, with a decision to be made on whether the country implements e-registration and e-voting practices in the future.

Moepya said the investigation was looking at how the processes had worked elsewhere, what drove countries to implement it and what the nature of their challenges were.

“Has the technology helped? Did it resolve these problems?” he asked. “That is the extent of the study. It is perceived that from this engagement the nation will be able to make policy decisions. We will use the lessons that we are taking from the rest of the world.”

While expressing a belief that technology could help, Moepya however called for caution in rushing to adopt technological solutions to South Africa’s electoral system.

“We come from a path of a divided society. We are a country that is developing,” he said. “For us equality is enshrined in our constitution. This is where the issue of trust is written into our system.

“When it comes to an election, we want it so nobody can object, to the registration of a person, of a party. One of the most fundamental things in our roots is transparency. And the minute you take that away the system will collapse.”

The current system only allows South African citizens to register to vote in person, with Moepya pointing to problems with Internet connectivity across the country and problems with verifying e-registrations and e-votes as issues that needed to be properly discussed before any decision was made.

“It is not about what technology can do, it is about what the political system, the electoral environment can do,” he said. “One cannot just pilot technology over that which is in the public good.

“I think it can happen as soon as possible, or soon thereafter. It will be directed by what provisions are made in law,” he added. “I think the technology is not difficult.”

Regardless of any inhibitions about the adoption of e-registration and e-voting in South Africa, Moepya was keen to stress the progress the IEC has made in the adoption of technology.

“I believe that the IEC has advanced in many respects the use of technology in elections,” he said.

In 2011 the IEC was one of 36 public institutions worldwide to receive the United Nations Public Service Award for its use of results slip scanning, which allows anybody to look at every vote made, cutting down on the chances of corruption and election manipulation.

“It takes away concentration of authority from one person and puts it into the public domain,” said Moepya. “Anyone can object and your objection will be upheld if it has merits.”

Though South African elections have in general taken place without the problems seen elsewhere on the continent, Moepya is aware the IEC needs to keep enhancing the electoral process.

“We are aware that every election is different,” he said. “That we have had successful elections in the past does not mean we will in future.”

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