South Africa looks to introduce electronic voting – but faces fears of fraud

 ·11 Nov 2020

Parliament has invited the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) to respond to public comments on the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill, including questions around the introduction of electronic voting in South Africa.

The amendment bill proposes a number of changes to elections in South Africa, including a new addition which will allow the IEC to ‘prescribe a different form of voting’.

This has been taken to include electronic voting, which the IEC has previously indicated that it is investigating.

Submissions on the amendment bill raised concerns about the security of electronic voting as well as the additional costs that such a system will incur.

Some of the specific concerns raised in the submissions include:

  • Electronic voting machines require such ‘large initial investments in hardware and proprietary software’ that the only way to help spread their costs is to give them ‘a lifetime of 20 to 30 years’. However, ‘it is almost impossible to prepare decades in advance for potential vulnerabilities, which multiply as technology advances’;
  • There is genuine public concern that a change to the prescribed voting method may open the door to electoral fraud – in particular, electronic voting is seen as more vulnerable to electoral fraud than our currently prescribed voting method;
  • Questions arise about how electronic voting could be conducted, including the possibility of using mobile phone number that is registered to a person on the voters’ roll and is RICA’d.

Pilot project likely

In July, the IEC said it is considering the introduction of electronic voting in an effort to increase efficiencies in the elections process in South Africa.

Chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo indicated that ‘e-voting’ was still in the early stages of consideration and would first be trialled as part of a pilot project.

“In order to increase efficiencies in the electoral process and to ameliorate intractable challenges especially in the counting and capturing of results, the commission has proposed an e-voting pilot project,” he said at the time

“The foremost consideration in the use of technology is to drive down the costs of elections and increase operational efficiencies.”

In its invitation to the IEC, parliament said that there will be extensive consultation on the matter, considering that the country cannot hide from this eventuality ‘in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

“While this is so, adequate mechanisms must be put in place to protect the integrity of any future e-voting process,” it said.

Read: E-toll decision delay is now costing all of South Africa

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