STEPHANIE VAN DER PLANK

Questions have recently been raised about the illiberal and undemocratic practices in UP’s student parliament election process. Since 2010 students have been required to write their student numbers on ballot cards when casting their votes. Branch leader of DASO Tuks, Thorne Godinho, has been in correspondence with the university to express his concerns. He recently tweeted about the “freedom-squashing university electoral practices,” and told Perdeby that, “DASO is increasingly dismayed at the illiberal and unfair form of democracy the University of Pretoria employs.”

DASO has conducted an internal review of the voting procedure in student parliament elections and has concluded that the process does not follow the model for elections as set out in the Constitution and South African Electoral Act. These documents clearly state that the voter has the right to vote freely and anonymously. Godinho insists that UP’s voting practice is unconstitutional and undemocratic. He quotes Section 19(3) (a) of the Constitution which states that “every adult citizen has the right … to vote for any legislative body established in terms of the constitution and to do so in secret.” He called for the act of writing student numbers on ballot forms to be abolished and commented that this practice is, “a perversion of a real democracy and should be tackled.”

Godinho recommended that the voting procedure be reformed for next year’s elections. He said that the production of a student card and the presence of the student’s name on the already existent voter’s roll should be sufficient identity. This procedure would be in line with Section 38 (2) (a) and (b) of the South African Electoral Act that states that, “a voter is entitled to vote at a voting station on the production of an identity document to the presiding officer; and if that voter’s name is in the certified segment of the voter’s roll.”

Wesley Timm, Chief Justice of the Constitutional Tribunal, confirmed that students have been required to write their student numbers on ballot forms. He said it is used as a safeguard to prevent fraud. He described the practice as a theory which has never been practically applied, but that the deterrent is there nonetheless. He said that there has never been suspicion of ballot paper fraud since he has been involved in elections. Media Liaison Officer at UP, Nicolize Mulder, agreed that the practice of writing student numbers on forms is a mechanism used to solve possible voting disputes. She told Perdeby that the only time these numbers are used is when a dispute is declared. The votes are then electronically verified to identify non-existent students or double votes. This process is only employed in the second round of counting.

She added that the decision to allow student identification on ballot forms was made together with the students. There have allegedly been disputes in the past, “[but] not the recent past,” says Mulder, and it is for this reason that the system was put in place. Do you think your democratic rights are being violated? Tweet your views @perdebynews or @StephvdPlank.

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