South African Advocate Andrew Redding SC representing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on Wednesday made a stunning submission at the High Court saying that every ballot paper cast can be traced back to a particular voter.
Redding was presenting the IEC arguments in a case where the Commission was objecting to the elections petitioners, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), to inspect the elections material that are in custody of the Registrar of the High Court.
The IEC, through Redding, argued that they do not want to undo the secrecy of the ballot box voting by allowing for the inspection of the elections material.
Justice Itumeleng Segopolo, who was part of a panel of three judges together with Justices Omphemetse Motumise and Gaolapelwe Ketlogetswe, had to seek further clarification from the IEC senior counsel.
“Are you saying by examining or inspecting the contents of a ballot box, there would be any breach of that secrecy, in other words, there would be any possibility of anybody knowing who Peter or Paul voted for?” asked Justice Segopolo.
Redding responded by saying, “The process in balloting is that, the voter is given a ballot [paper] that has a number. And that ballot is identifiable back to a particular ballot book and identifiable back to a particular voter if one goes through that process”.
The IEC legal hawk further made it clear that they are objecting to the wholesale inspection of the elections material because it will be possible to trace as to who voted for which candidate or which party.
Surprisingly the IEC, this time through its spokesperson Osupile Maroba refutes the statement made by their high profile advocate.
Maroba, who was reluctant to discuss matters before the court said that IEC election process does not allow anybody to be able to trace any ballot cast back to the voter.
“As per our election process of secret ballot, no one can identify your ballot. A vote remains a secret of the voter,” said Maroba
Maroba explained the polling process on an Election Day asserting that their polling agents are not instructed to leave a trace on the ballot book as to which voter used which ballot paper.
As per Mmegi polling day observations, voters went through a process that usually involved three officials:
- The first agent, is the one marshalling the queue and checking whether a voter has valid documents, Omang and registration card. This agent would be at door or walking through the queue.
- Voter Roll check: The voter would hand in their documents to the second agent, who would look through the voters roll for their name. Upon identifying them, the polling agent would shout out the name and page number of the Voters’ Roll to the party agents. They would all cross out the voter’s name on their respective rolls to mark that the voter voted.
- Ballot Paper: The voter would then move to the last polling agent carrying the ballot papers. In some polling stations, this agent sat on the same table and close to the second polling agent.
This agent also carried a copy of the Voters’ Roll. He/She would cut out the ballot paper and explain the voting process to the voter before directing the voter to the booth to mark his X in secret.
This secrecy is sacrosanct in any ballot box election and therefore remains unclear whether IEC concedes that a vote in Botswana is absolutely secret or not.