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No, ‘mystery’ ballot papers have not been ‘discovered’ pre-filled with votes for South Africa’s ruling ANC

IN SHORT: There is no evidence for viral claims ahead of South Africa’s general elections that “mystery” ballot papers have been found already marked with votes for the ruling African National Congress.

South Africa holds national elections on 29 May 2024, but many social media posts shared days before, particularly from supporters of the recently formed uMkhonto weSizwe or MK Party, claim to show ballot papers that have already been filled out.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa, or IEC, has rubbished the claims, and said that it is considering taking action against the MK Party and its members who it says entered an IEC warehouse without authorisation.

Versions of this claim have been shared with images and videos on Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and X (formerly Twitter).

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No evidence of vote rigging, or pre-filled ballots

One particularly popular video, first posted on TikTok by an account in the name of “Sthembiso Khomo”, shows boxes marked with IEC branding, and voting station information for various parts of the eThekwini region in the KwaZulu-Natal province. This video has been used as evidence that “mystery ballot papers” were found already marked with votes for the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

In a TikTok video, which no longer appears on his account, MK Party member Visvin Reddy says: “Here you find millions of ballot papers that were printed and that were found in Hammersdale, Kwa-Zulu Natal. The interesting thing about these ballot papers is that they were all marked ANC.” 

As Reddy speaks, the Sthembiso Khomo video plays in the foreground. However, this video only shows sealed cardboard boxes. It does not reveal what is in the boxes and does not include evidence that the boxes contain pre-marked ballot papers. Neither do any other videos which Africa Check has seen.

Photos of the boxes shared on social media show that they have been sealed with tape on which is written “If this seal is broken please check contents before acceptance” in English and Afrikaans. None of the tape on the boxes appears to have been disturbed, suggesting that the people filming these videos had not inspected their contents.

IEC: Election materials were being delivered, under guard, to voting stations in advance of election

In a 26 May statement responding to the claims, the IEC said: “We wish to clarify that the videos depict our planned logistical arrangements and storage of election materials as we prepare for the first day of special voting on 27 May 2024. These are legitimate and authorised arrangements for the distribution of ballot papers and other bulk material.”

Special voting takes place on 27 and 28 May for voters who applied for a special vote in advance, either at voting stations or in private homes, visited by IEC officials. The IEC has said: “In all, there is at least a single approved special vote in 22 626 of the total of 23 292 voting stations in the 2024 elections.”

Regarding the voting materials delivered early in eThekwini, the commission also said that they were escorted to “local storage sites” by the South African Police Services and would then have been “guarded on a 24-hours basis” to ensure that they were not tampered with at these sites. It said that the people who had entered these sites to record footage and take photographs of these materials had done so “without authorisation”.

According to the IEC, ballots were returned to a local IEC warehouse, where MK Party members were denied access. It asked “the leadership of MK party to immediately leave the warehouse as the Commission urgently needs to finalise the distribution of election material”. It added it was “contemplating measures against the party and individuals involved” in this and other acts which may have contravened the electoral code of conduct.

The MK Party has, on its official X account, referred to election materials in eThekwini as “alleged stolen ballot papers”, which “are alleged to be intended for ANC members in the area” but the party has provided no evidence for these claims. There is no reason to doubt that the delivery of voting materials for special voting was in any way unusual.

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