The New Electoral Amendment Bill – Expect Changes at Elections Due To New Legislation

By Jessie Taylor

South Africans will go to the polls for the country’s seventh democratic election on Wednesday 29 May. However, the voting process will be slightly different this year due to recent changes to the legislation governing our elections. In April last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Electoral Amendment Bill into law. This piece of legislation expands electoral participation and widens the pool of leadership choices for national and provincial elections.

According to the Independent Electoral Commission, more than 27.79 million voters – the highest since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, are eligible to cast their votes in the 2024 National and Provincial Elections. Of the eligible voters, 15 million are female, representing over 55%. Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo said: “Since the voters’ roll was compiled for the first time ahead of the 1999 National and Provincial Elections, it has shown steady growth of over 35% and contains the highest number of registered voters, recording an increase of 9.6 million voters since the 1999 general elections.” Gauteng remains the biggest voting block, followed by the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, respectively.

Changes For Voters

Due to the changes in legislation, South African voters will, for the first time, receive three ballots instead of only two ballots. The first ballot will be for the election of the compensatory 200 members of the National Assembly (national ballot). The second ballot will be for the regional elections of the other 200 members of the National Assembly. This ballot will vary from region to region, depending on which parties and independent candidates contest the relevant regional election.

Only the names of political parties and independent candidates that have met the requirements to contest each regional election will appear on this ballot. The third ballot, the provincial ballot, will be for electing the members of the provincial legislature in each province. It contains the names of the political parties and independent candidates that have met the requirements to contest each provincial election.

Inclusion Of Independent Candidates

The Electoral Amendment Act 1 of 2023 allows for the inclusion and nomination of independent candidates as contesters to elections in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures for the first time. The Act sets out the requirements that must be met by persons who wish to be nominated as independent candidates, as well as the obligations they must fulfil under the Electoral Code of Conduct.

The amendment of the Act follows a judgment handed down by the Constitutional Court in June 2020, which found that it was unconstitutional that election to the National Assembly and provincial legislatures may only be attained through membership of political parties.

The Constitutional Court ordered Parliament to remedy the legislation, which resulted in the amendment bill. The bill went through extensive public consultations, prompting Parliament to request two deadline extensions from the Constitutional Court. The final deadline for Parliament to pass the bill was 28 February 2023. On 23 February 2023, the National Assembly passed the Electoral Amendment Bill. The Electoral Amendment Act became law in June 2023.

Allocation Of Seats

A second aspect of the Act is the revised formula for the allocation of seats and their re-allocation in the event of vacated seats. The amendment will not impact the two-tier multimember compensatory proportional system, so there is no change to South Africa’s electoral system. The 400 seats in the National Assembly, which is the maximum set by the Constitution, are retained. Of these, half are reserved for the national list (to be contested only by political parties), and the remaining half are divided among the nine provinces (contested by parties and independent candidates).

In the national elections, independent candidates will contest the 200 regional seats alongside political parties, while the other 200 seats will be compensatory to bring back general proportionality for political parties. An independent candidate can only occupy one seat, even if they contest in multiple regions. In provincial legislatures, there are between 30 and 80 seats. The Electoral Commission is responsible for determining the number of seats before every national and provincial election based on the size of the population in each province.

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