What is the Law on Elections?

Free and fair elections are perhaps the most important aspect of a thriving democracy. The age of kings, queens and nobles who get to rule simply because of their bloodline is all but over and now the power to choose leaders resides with the people. Of course, many nations still suffer from corruption and election rigging, undermining the system at its root level. But does this happen here? What are the rules for elections in South Africa and who is in charge of regulating them? What is the Law on Elections?

South Africa holds different elections at different times to determine how citizens are represented in the 3 different spheres of the government. All elections are overseen by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

The IEC is designed to manage South Africa’s elections while ensuring that they are free and fair. Additionally, the IEC has multiple duties such as declaring election results and promoting voter education.

What is the Law on Elections?
What is the Law on Elections?

General elections work off of a system of party-list proportional representation whereby parties gain representation proportional to their vote share. Alternatively, municipal elections work off of a mixed-member system in which half the seats are determined via a First-Past-The-Post system while the other half are determined using a Proportional Representation (PR) system. 

What are the Rules for Elections in South Africa and what are the Penalties for Breaking them?

Election-related rules are determined by the Electoral Act of 1998. This act highlights the rights of voters as well as the various types of illegal actions that both individuals and parties can be found guilty of.

Voter rights include –

  • The Right to Secrecy – You do not have to tell anyone who you voted for and it is illegal to force or intimidate anyone into revealing their vote.
  • The Right to Choose – Each voter has the right to pick who they wish to vote for. It is illegal to threaten or coerce anyone into voting a certain way.
  • The Right to Take Part – Every adult South African has the constitutional right to vote and to stand for office.
  • The Right to Information – Voters have the right to learn about different political parties. Likewise, these parties have the right to campaign freely and provide information to voters.

Types of illegal electoral conduct include, but are not limited to –

  • Threatening voters or members of opposing political parties
  • Removing or destroying opposition property such as posters and signs
  • Forcing citizens to join or support your party
  • Inciting violence against another political party
  • Disrupting opposition activities such as campaigning, party meetings, etc
What is the Law on Elections?
What is the Law on Elections?

Breaking these rules can lead to penalties ranging from fines and cancellation of certain votes to serious jail time depending on the severity of the crime.

What are the Different Types of Elections?

There are 3 different types of elections that take place in South Africa, they are –

  • National Elections – Normally when you think of an election, this is the one you’ve got in mind. People vote for the political party of their choice which determines how many seats each party gets in Parliament. Rulings made by this part of government tend to affect the whole country.
  • Provincial Elections – These elections usually happen alongside the aforementioned National Elections and go on to determine representation with regard to Provincial Legislature. This branch of government ends up making the laws that affect specific provinces.
  • Municipal Elections – Municipal elections take place to determine the councils which will oversee Metropolitan, District and Local municipalities. Unlike the previous 2 elections in which voters normally get 1 vote each, voters in municipal elections get 2-3 votes each. The first vote goes towards the specific person that you want to represent your ward while the others go towards your political party of choice.

What are By-Elections?

By-elections take place after a municipal council seat has been made vacant. These vacancies may occur due to a council member’s death, dismissal or resignation. Regardless of the reasoning, within 90 days of the event occurring, by-elections must be held to fill the vacancy. Any voter registered in the municipality or ward in which the vacancy has occurred is eligible to vote.

What is the Voting Age in South Africa and are there Any Other Requirements?

To vote in South Africa you must be over the age of 18 and officially registered as a voter, you will also need your ID. During municipal elections you will need to go to the voting station in the district to which you are registered. When voting in National or Provincial elections you should still vote at these voting stations although you may be allowed to vote at others if you can prove that you are, in fact, registered

What is the Law on Elections?
What is the Law on Elections?

What are the Voting Registration Requirements in South Africa?

Before you can vote in South Africa you must be properly registered. The process of registration goes like this –

  • Book an appointment at the voting station of your particular district – Each voting station is responsible for a specific district so it’s important to ensure that you have found the correct one.
  • Present your ID – You can use your green ID book, a smartcard ID or a Temporary Identity Certificate (TIC).
  • Complete the Registration Form
  • Receive a Barcode Sticker – Your ID will be scanned and a special barcode will be attached to your ID. You will have to show this barcode along with your ID when you vote.
  • Wait for Registration – Receiving the barcode does not mean you have been officially registered. The actual registration process can take up to a week, after which you can check online or via SMS to see if you have been registered.

You are able to register to vote when you are 16 years old however you will only be allowed to vote when you are 18. A voting registration weekend is set to take place on the 17th and 18th of July 2021, during which time, voting stations around the country will be opened to help people register.

When are Elections Held in South Africa? – What is the Law on Elections?

With the exception of by-elections, elections take place once every 5 years. General and Provincial elections normally take place simultaneously while Municipal elections take place at some point between general elections. The next municipal elections will take place in 2021 while the next general and provincial elections will take place in 2024.

What Time do Voting Stations Open? – What is the Law on Elections?

While times may change slightly depending on location, most voting stations should open at around 7 am on election day and will stay open until 9 pm.

In Conclusion – What is the Law on Elections in South Africa and How do you Vote?

There are 3 main elections in South Africa that take place once every 5 years respectively. All elections are overseen by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) who ensure that elections are both free and fair. All registered voters are entitled to take part in the election process and have the right to vote for the party of their choice while keeping their decision secret. Additionally, all adult South Africans have the right to stand for public office.

What is the Law on Elections?
What is the Law on Elections?

There are many forms of voter intimidation that are considered illegal and can lead to harsh penalties including fines and imprisonment. Some examples of illegal electoral behavior include threatening voters, disrupting campaign activities and inciting violence against political rivals.

General and Provincial elections take place simultaneously and determine political representation in parliament and in provincial legislation. On the other hand, Municipal elections are held at some point between the General elections and determine the council members who are in charge of specific districts. Lastly, by-elections take place when vacancies occur within these councils.

Voters must be over the age of 18 and must be South Africa citizens, they will also need to provide their ID and must be officially registered. It should be noted however, that you may register to vote at the age of 16, although you will only be able to vote at 18.

Registering to vote must be done at the voting station responsible for your district. You will need to provide your ID or temporary ID and complete a registration form, afterwards you will receive a voter barcode which, once registered, must be shown alongside your ID when you vote. Voting in municipal elections must be done at your assigned voting station. Voting in other elections should also be done at these stations although certain allowances may be made.

The next Municipal elections will take place in 2021 while the next General and Provincial election will take place in 2024. Voting stations should open at around 7am on election day and will close at 9pm. A voting registration weekend is set to take place on the 17th and 18th of July 2021 for those who wish to be registered.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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