Ballot paper or EVMs? The IEC caught between rock and a hard place

26 Jul 2018

Faced with growing uncertainty emanating from a suite of court cases pressure is mounting on the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to decide how to prepare for next year’s General elections.

The IEC does not know whether to prepare for general elections that will be conducted using Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) or ballot paper, it has emerged.

It has also emerged that the IEC officials are reportedly giving the public contradictory information about the Commission’s preparations for the upcoming general elections.

This week IEC spokesperson Osupile Maroba denied that the Commission was facing an agonising choice.

But Maroba’s claim is in stark contradiction to information provided by IEC officials who are currently consulting political leaders across the country.

Recently IEC Chief Information Education Officer Dintle Rapoo reportedly informed the Ghanzi District Council that “the uncertainty on whether to use EVM’s or ballot papers in the next general elections put them in a tight corner.”  

According to Rapoo, the prevailing situation was due to a pending court case by Botswana Congress Party (BCP) challenging the constitutionality of Electoral amendments Act of 2016 together with a similar case lodged by National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU). 

Rapoo reportedly said that time was not on their side regardless of a decision to be taken, saying that even if EVM were to be used, procurement process needed over 6 months to be done, similarly if ballot papers were to be used they would still need more time to do the preparations.

Rapoo’s concerns were shared by the Deputy Secretary for the IEC, Doreen Serumola who in June informed councillors in Selebi Phikwe that the two cases before court were “affecting preparations for the 2019 General Elections.”  

An insider told The Telegrph that the concerns raised by the two officers was not unfounded because the elections are “around the corner).” She said that if the IEC has to use the ballot paper, it needs sufficient time to procure the material because “it is a special paper that is used for that” adding that “The same is true about the procurement of the EVMs.”

The Telegraph sought to establish from Maroba if the IEC is facing challenges in preparation of the general elections as this is a matter of national interest. But Maroba said the current developments regarding the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2016, court cases do not affect the current preparations for the 2019 General Elections.

“The appointment of the General Voter Registration exercise of 3rd September to 11th November 2018 was so gazetted in December 2017 using the provisions of the Electoral Act Cap.02:09. All the ongoing preparations are independent of the provisions of the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2016 which is before the High Court,” said Maroba. He would not address the issue of procurement in his response which insiders say contributes to factors that resulted in the IEC finding itself in a tight corner.

“…there is no imminent crisis regarding the preparations towards the elections. The preparations from now on until the dissolution of Parliament past mid 2019 do not subject the Commission to any ‘agonising choice’ on whether or not EVMs are going to be used because there is law (Electoral Act Cap: 02:09) currently being implemented,” said Maroba.

He said “There is no contingency plan or need for one because we have the law that we have been implementing for all the past elections and it is the law that the Commission is using to prepare for the 2019 general elections. The Electoral (Amendment) Act of 2016 which is subjected to court proceedings do not have a commencement date.”

According to Maroba “As long as it doesn’t have the commencement date, the outcome of the court cases would not have effect on the preparations. The credibility of the elections therefore is always guaranteed.”

“It is important to note that IEC is implementing the Electoral Act cap: 02:09 as it prepares for the general elections, including the General Voter Registration exercise scheduled for 3rd September to 11th October 2018 which is not affected by the Electoral (Amendment) Act,” said Maroba.