Perhaps this is the first time you have been eligible to vote in an election? Do you know how the voting system works and what exactly your vote will do? South Africa will be holding National and Provincial elections on 8 May 2019, and it’s useful to understand how our electoral system works. By understanding the system, you will begin to understand how your vote counts.

National and Provincial elections take place every 5 years in which registered voters vote to elect their representatives in the various parliaments or legislatures.

The South African democratic system has two houses of Parliament: the lower house is the National Assembly which has 400 seats, and the upper house is the National Council of Provinces, which has 90 seats (10 members for each province). In addition, each province has its own legislature – the Provincial Legislature, the size of which is determined by the Province.

The 400 seats of the National Assembly are filled in two tiers: half of them are regional list seats and the other half are national list seats. Political parties need to submit lists of their candidates to the Independent Electoral Commission ahead of elections. Only those people who appear on the candidate lists can become elected representatives for the party. Importantly, a candidate’s name can appear on both the national and regional lists. However, once the votes have been counted, and the number of seats assigned to parties, a candidate may only be selected as a representative in ONE government house, i.e. the National Assembly or the Provincial Legislature.

Each registered voter has two votes – one national vote and one provincial vote. The national vote determines the proportion of seats each party has in the National Assembly, while the provincial vote determines the proportion of seats each party holds in the Provincial Legislature and – by extension – the party representation in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

In summary: your national vote counts towards the representation of political parties in the National Assembly, and your provincial vote counts towards the representation of political parties within the Provincial Legislature. And, the Provincial Legislature elects who will be the provincial representatives in the National Council of Provinces. This means that your provincial vote indirectly affects the composition of the upper house of the National Assembly – the National Council of Provinces.

What does the National Assembly do?
The National Assembly is responsible for creating and passing laws, including laws that control the finances of the country. The Finance Minister presents his budget in the National Assembly reviewing the country’s economic performance in the previous year and announcing economic proposals for the coming year. It also has sessions for questions which makes the Government account for its actions to Parliament.

What does the National Council of Provinces do?
The upper house of parliament is the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) which ensures that the nine provinces have a direct voice in Parliament when laws are made, and that provincial interests are taken into account by government. To become law, a piece of legislation must pass through both houses of parliament. So, while the NCOP does not propose legislation, it can veto – or not pass – legislation or send it back to the lower house for revisions and additional work.

Who can vote?
If you are a South African citizen over 18 years old, and you have registered to vote, you are free to vote for any political party that you want to.

How does it work on voting day?
• Polling stations will be open on 8 May from 7am to 9pm.
• Once you have arrived in the polling station, your name is checked against the voters’ role. This is to check that you are registered to vote in that district and that you haven’t voted before on that day.
• Your thumb is inked (it takes a long time to come off!) and your name is crossed off on the list to prevent you from voting more than once on the day.
• You will be given two ballot papers (sheets on which to vote) – one for national and a separate one for provincial. All registered political parties will be listed on each of these ballot sheets.
• You enter the voting booth and place your mark on the ballot paper next to the party of your choice. You do one vote on each of the sheets. If you vote for more than one party on one ballot sheet or spoil your vote in any way, then this is a spoilt vote and it is not counted in the election.
• You cast your vote by placing your marked ballot paper in the sealed voting box.

Voting by proportional representation: what does it mean?
Each party is allocated a certain number of seats based on the total number of votes a party receives. Your vote, together with other votes for your party of choice will go towards your party getting seats in the National Assembly.

South Africa uses a system of proportional representation for allocating seats. Here is a simplified example: Let’s say each seat in the National Assembly needs 50 votes from a certain political party to get one seat. If you vote and another 49 people vote for that party, then the party will be able to put one person into the National Assembly to represent them (and you because you voted for them).

Voting by proportional representation: who gets elected and how?
Because you have voted for a party and not a person, the actual person who is selected to go into the National Assembly is chosen by the political party you voted for.

This is why political parties submit lists to the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) before elections. The lists are available for you, as a voter, to see. The higher someone is on the party’s list, the more likely he or she is to be allocated a seat in the National Assembly should that party get the required number of votes.

These lists cannot be changed by voters as they are determined by the political parties themselves.

Voters’ rights:
• Voters have the right to a secret vote – no one may know who you voted for.
• Voters have the right to choose – no one may force, intimidate or bribe a voter to vote or not vote for a party.
• Voters have the right to vote – no one may stop you from voting by forcing you to work or by preventing you from getting to the voting station.
• Voters have a right to get information from parties – no-one may stop parties or candidates from reaching voters.

Now you know how the South African voting system works, you can make the choices that work for you. Each vote does count!

Want to find out more? See these useful sites!
IEC Information for voters
Electoral Commission of South Africa
Infographic on seat calculations for the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures
Wikipedia article on South Africa’s 2019 general elections:


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