Blacks Prepare to Cast Their Ballots
Voter-education classes give South Africa's majority population training for the April election
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``Secondly, the transport and communications infrastructure here is quite exceptional for a country engaging in first-time democracy elections,'' she says.Skip to next paragraph
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``The long lead-in period has also allowed us to land up with what is probably the most user-friendly ballot paper ever devised,'' Kiefer says.
Identifying the gaps
The ballot, which was developed partly in response to feedback from voter-education campaigns like Project Vote, consists of the name of the political party, its acronym, the logo in full color, and a photograph of its leader.The group at the top of the voter-education pyramid is the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is also charged with supervising and administering the election and certifying the result as ``free and fair.''
The IEC is responsible for coordinating voter-education activities by a plethora of development agencies and community organizations.
``If we identify gaps, we will become involved in voter education ourselves to ensure that voter-education programs reach those areas,'' says Albert Mokoena, the IEC's director of voter education.
Many development agencies were ideally placed to become involved in voter education. Those involved in paralegal work - like the Community Law Center in Natal - have proved to be some of the most effective educators.
In Cape Town, the Voter Education and Elections Training Unit is a creative initiative that has brought under one umbrella four nongovernmental organizations involved in training community organizations.
The result is a national voter-education effort that combines long-term democracy education and empowerment with the shorter-term goal of voter education.The Electoral Law, painstakingly negotiated by all the parties taking part in the election, also gives the IEC considerable leeway in reading the voter's intention before resorting to declaring a spoilt paper.
Two separate ballots
A cross is preferred, but a tick or other mark in the vacant box will be counted. The vote can be counted even if the voter fails to make a mark in the blank box but circles or marks the logo, acronym, or photograph of the leader.
``The whole system has been designed for its simplicity and to encourage full participation,'' Kiefer says. ``It will not intimidate people.''One source of worry to voter educators is the additional voter education and more complicated logistics flowing from the ANC decision (Feb. 11) to agree to two ballots - one regional and one national - rather than insist on the simpler single-ballot system.
``I have difficulty with the concept of two separate ballots in a first-time election in a country where nearly 70 percent of the population is illiterate,'' Xontana says.
Since Xontana began his traveling workshops a year ago, he has reached some 27,000 people in an area of 1.4-million eligible voters.
``One of the slogans people can relate to most easily is: one person, one vote. I fear that to now switch to a system of ``one person, two votes'' could lead to a lot of spoilt papers,'' he says.
But the NDI's Kiefer says that while the switch will present problems, it can be done.
``There is certainly legitimacy to the argument that the vote should be kept as simple as possible the first time around,'' Kiefer says.
``But one must remember that the network is now in place and the prospect of reeducating those who have already been reached directly is not nearly as difficult as it was the first time around.''
During a visit to the country earlier this month, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Brian Atwood announced a further $10 million in election assistance.