Beware use of ‘salami tactics’ to attain e-voting – IRR

Electoral Laws Amendment Bill of 2020 empowers IEC to pick voting method by regulation

Beware the use of ‘salami tactics’ to attain e-voting – IRR

24 November 2020

The ANC’s initial plan to give the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) carte blanche to introduce an electronic voting system by regulation has been stymied by strong public opposition. Now the ruling party plans to use ‘salami tactics’ (whittling away opposition in small slices) to achieve the same outcome over time, warns the IRR.

The Electoral Laws Amendment Bill of 2020 (the Bill) currently proposes to empower the IEC to stipulate ‘a different voting method’ for elections at all three tiers of government. The commission’s decision will be made by regulation, without reference to Parliament, and will override all legislation providing for the current manual voting system.

Manual systems, though imperfect, are simple, transparent, and easy to monitor via their clear paper trails. Electronic ones, by contrast, are complex, opaque, and far more vulnerable to both undetected error and deliberate manipulation.

Attacks require high levels of technical expertise but are also difficult to identify and can generate systemic distortions. Manipulation can come not only from malicious outsiders but also from ruling parties wanting to skew election results, as experience around the world has shown.

The risks of manipulation are particularly worrying in South Africa. The ANC knows its electoral support is steadily diminishing and that it won its 57.5% majority in the 2019 election with the support of only 26.5% of all eligible voters.

But the ANC also regards itself not as an ordinary political party that might have to accept electoral defeat but rather as a liberation movement with a historic mission to complete its socialist revolution and hence with a unique entitlement to rule.

The ANC also knows (as Stalin is reputed to have said) that how the people vote is far less important than how their votes are counted. And that an electronic system will give it much more scope to generate the ‘correct’ pro-ANC result.

This is where the ‘salami tactics’ come in. Strong public opposition to the Bill has forced the ANC to backtrack and to claim that it never intended to sidestep Parliament or smuggle in an e-voting system without good reason or proper public consultation.

The Bill is therefore to be amended to allow the IEC merely to ‘pilot’ an e-voting system in certain districts. In this way, the ANC plans to cut away at public opposition, one slice at a time, until objections have been adequately neutralised.

Says Hermann Pretorius, head of strategic initiatives at the IRR: “Once the IEC has carried out a supposedly ‘successful’ pilot study of an e-voting system, the only question that will be put before the public is whether this particular system should be adopted or not. The real question, by contrast, is whether South Africans can risk the introduction of an e-voting system open to ANC manipulation for its own socialist ends.

“That the ANC has stepped back from the current wording of the Bill is a major victory. But it is also not enough. The clauses in the Bill providing for an e-voting system should simply be scrapped.

“The country cannot afford the high economic costs of introducing e-voting, especially at a time when essential spending on education, healthcare, water, sanitation and other core needs is having to be cut. Nor can it risk giving the ANC an easy way of sustaining itself in power long after the electorate has opted to jettison it.”

Issued by Hermann Pretorius, IRR Head of Strategic Initiatives, 24 November 2020