Wed. May 22nd, 2019

2019 Elections: Here’s what happens if electoral votes tie in South Africa

electoral votes tieIt has happened before, but not here in South Africa. We’ve seen electoral votes tie, but what happens if two candidates can’t be separated?

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Hopefully, your boss has been kind enough to give you Wednesday off and allow you a full day to submit your vote for the 2019 Elections. Whoever you’re backing, it’s important to remember that your vote absolutely does count, even if you feel a little disenfranchised with politics.

For you see, plenty of votes have been decided by a margin of one before: In fact, some local elections across the world have seen their electoral votes tie. But what would happen if that scenario played out in South Africa? The answer is confusing, to say the least.

What happens if electoral votes tie in South Africa?

The truth is, it’s absolutely unprecedented in South Africa. No vote in the democratic era has ever gone to a tie-breaker in this country. There’s very little in the way of clear Electoral Law that makes provisions for a tied vote, so we have to look at the actual electoral system used in Mzansi, known as “proportional representation”:

Proportional representation and “backwards tie-breaking”

This system directly means that the percentage of the vote directly accounts for the percentage of seats in Parliament. So if the ANC claim 55% of all votes in South Africa, for example, they’d end up with 55% of all seats in the National Assembly – 220 out of 400, to be precise.

Counting up the ballot papers is done in stages. According to the Proportional Representation Society (PRS), a tied vote would mean that election officials would have to determine who the winner was at the previous stage of tallying the vote – the one before the final result was announced. This is known as “backwards tie-breaking”.

If that’s a tie, they must go back further to the stage before that and so on, until a winner is declared. Here’s the official explanation:

“[Officials] must choose the candidate who has the most (or least) votes at the previous stage or at the latest point in the count where they had unequal votes.”

Proportional Representation Society

However, this method of victory would certainly ruffle a few feathers: There would likely be a recount, which has the potential to change the result. This could also cause a further dispute, with a “losing” candidate demanding that the votes are tallied once again.

These issues can drag on for an age and if, for whatever reason, it took longer than seven days to declare a winner, the Electoral Commission must apply to the Electoral Court for an extension of that period.

What other countries do when electoral votes tie

Perhaps we could save ourselves all a few headaches and copy what the Brits ended up doing last year. A local by-election ended up as a dead heat between the Conservative and Labour parties. With no other way to separate them, a literal coin toss gave the seat to the Tory candidate.

With 189 000 IEC volunteers and officials on hand this Wednesday, we’re sure that one bright spark will know how to properly break the deadlock if South Africa ends up with it’s first ever tied vote in either a local or national election. If not, hopefully there will be an R5 coin knocking about somewhere.

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