The results of the 2019 General Elections may have been affected by numerous individual voters casting multiple votes at more than one voting station, although the extent of the impact this may have on the results is impossible to determine.
A number of weaknesses in the voting system mean that multiple voting is not impossible, and even easy, with some voters claiming on radio and social media on Wednesday afternoon that they voted more than once – a criminal offence.
While the IEC threatens that voters who vote more than once will be tracked down and prosecuted, in some cases this won’t be possible, and in all cases it will be impossible to exclude fraudulent votes from the results because ballot papers in a ballot box cannot be linked to an ID number.
We wish to remind all voters that any attempt to undermine the integrity of the #SAElections2019 election process – including remove the ink mark and voting more than once – constitutes electoral fraud and is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
— IEC South Africa (@IECSouthAfrica) May 8, 2019
“Voting twice is a selfish act”
In an interview with SABC Digital News, IEC spokesperson Kate Bapela warned that fraudsters would be caught. “If you happen to go to another voting station and vote, it would be a very selfish act. You will be busted!” Bapela said. But will you?
How voters could have voted again (and again, and again)
Ineffective Zip-zap machines
The Zip-zap machines at the entrance of every voting station are offline: they are not connected to any kind of central network that would flag ID numbers that have already been scanned at the same or any other voting station. They simply check that an ID number is registered. They are not an effective access control mechanism, and they sometimes fail.
Many voters have reported that they have been able to easily remove the supposedly indelible ink marks on their thumbs. The ink marks are one of the key (but severely technologically outdated) security measures the IEC puts in place to prevent voters voting more than once.
During a media briefing earlier in the day, IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo called for voters to resist such efforts to circumvent electoral processes. “We want to call upon South Africans to desist [from attempting to remove their ink marks] because we do not wish for this to be about prosecutions; this should really be about celebrating our electoral democracy,”
In previous elections, it was a requirement that all green ID books are stamped. However, because many voters used the new ID smart cards for these elections, the stamping of green ID books is no longer required.
@IECSouthAfrica they didn’t stamp my ID when I voted. Is that a problem?
— Gina Robb (@GinaRobb1) May 8, 2019
This means that a voters’ roll officer has no conclusive way of knowing whether a voter has already voted at another voting station.
Once a voter is inside a voting station, their name is struck off the voters’ roll (if they are registered in that particular district), their thumb is inked and they proceed to cast their votes. If a voter is voting in a different district to the one where they are registered, they are required to fill in a VEC4 form before proceeding.
Humans are fallible
The voters’ roll officer is then meant to check that the ID number filled in on the form matches the ID number on the voter’s ID document. This does not always happen (it did not happen when this author voted, for example, as well as many Twitter users). It is therefore possible, in theory, to vote multiple times without being caught.
It is possible for any voter to vote once at their registered voting station, and then again and again at any other voting station(s) by filling in each VEC4 form with their correct ID number, with no questions asked. However, if you’d prefer to stay out of jail, this is a silly move, because all VEC4 forms will be captured into a master dataset and any duplicate ID numbers will be investigated.
If you wanted to vote multiple times without being detected, you’d have to hope that the voters’ roll officers don’t check the information on your form against your ID document.
How many people have duped the system this year, how many will be successfully tracked and prosecuted, and what’s been the effect on the results? It’s anyone’s guess, but the IEC needs to up their game for the next elections to limit these risks.