Some years ago a comedian told a story about a man who comes home and finds his wife’s lover in the closet. When asked what he is doing there the lover replies “Everyone’s got to be someplace”. Nowadays it is easy to find out where that someplace is.
In mid-June 2016 the Constitutional Court was faced with the problem that municipal elections are coming up in August 2016 but the national voters roll lacked the addresses of millions of voters which the chief electoral officer is supposed to give to any registered political party on request where the addresses are available.
With our history it is hardly surprising that universal adult suffrage and a national common voters roll are core values in section 1 of the Bill of Rights and that the matter reached our highest court.
The Constitutional Court concluded that for an address to be available it must be objectively available or reasonably available. Three different judgments were given by the court but they had one thing in common. All the judges agreed that there might be voters with no addresses because they might live in places with no street names or numbers or other information pinpointing individual homes. The court concluded that an election can be free and fair despite the fact that millions of voters in villages and informal settlements do not have recordable addresses available. Despite literally dozens of lawyers being involved in the case, no-one seems to have pointed out the advantages of living in the 21st Century. Everyone has an address which is recordable. With a smartphone in hand or other positioning device and an obliging satellite, we can all be pinpointed by a sucker stick and co-ordinates on a Google map and get to vote in the district where we live. It is not essential that a voter’s roll be up to date at all times to get a fair election. The purpose is to ensure that someone does not register and vote in two different voting districts at the same time.
The electoral laws do not say anything about what an address is. In its ordinary sense it is a place where a person usually lives or carries on business. We are accustomated to finding out where everyone lives when the census is done every five years or so and there is no reason why the Independent Electoral Commission can’t carry out a similar exercise. The judgment reports that the IEC has 52 000 electoral staff nationwide able to obtain voters’ addresses. If each of them is given a handheld positioning device that should not be too difficult to do before 2019 which is how long the court gave them to do so. The IEC can also be nudged into recording the addresses of all pre-December 2003 voters who did not form part of the court order. Of course there will be some people for whom it is impossible to get an address at all but the law accepts that.
Every one of us has the right to free, fair and regular elections for any legislative body established by the Constitution and the Electoral Commission is established by the Constitution to oversee that process.
A right to vote carries obligations. Make sure you protect your right to vote by telling Home Affairs if you change your address. And when you get an SMS from the Independent Electoral Commission asking for your address make sure you reply and remind others to do the same.
I always like coming across those signs which say “You are here”. It always seems to prove my existence. Why not give the same proof to the IEC?