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No, nothing suspicious about this video of special voting ballots being collected

IN SHORT: Video spreading on social media following South Africa’s 29 May 2024 general election does not show “ballot box stuffing” or anything else untoward. The country’s electoral commission has explained the video shows part of the special voting process, overseen by election observers.

Note: This report includes details about a developing news story. Information was, as far as possible, correct at the time of publication but may change rapidly.

On 29 May, South Africans voted in national and provincial elections. The results have not been finalised at time of publication, but some South Africans are already expressing doubts about whether the elections were free and fair.

Africa Check has debunked multiple claims which cast doubt on the trustworthiness of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (or IEC), the independent organisation responsible for overseeing elections in the country.

We were also alerted to similar claims about a video of a man removing envelopes from a blue bag and placing them into a ballot box. Users on X (formerly Twitter), YouTube and Facebook shared the video, with many claiming that it shows “ballot box stuffing caught on camera”. One user on X asked: “What’s happening here?”

Herman Mashaba, leader of opposition political party ActionSA, shared the video on X with the comment “I hope these are just fake news ⁦@IECSouthAfrica”, tagging the official account of the IEC.

But the video shows nothing untoward. The IEC has confirmed that the envelopes contained votes collected by IEC officials during the two-day special voting period, and observed by party agents to ensure that election procedure was being followed.

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‘This video depicts the process of special voting’, sealed envelopes and no evidence of foul play

On X, the IEC has repeatedly said that the video “depicts the process of special voting, whereby envelopes from ballots cast by home visit are moved from the home visit bag by election officials into the ballot box of the voting station for counting”. 

Special voting is available to voters who cannot travel to a voting station (for example, due to disability) or cannot vote at their voting station on election day. Anyone who requires a special vote must apply to the IEC in advance, and are then allowed to vote in the days before the official day of the election. In 2024, special voting took place on 27 and 28 May, with the official election day on 29 May.

During special voting, voters who applied for a special vote because they cannot travel to their voting station are visited at home by IEC officials. As the IEC explains in this factsheet, special voters mark their election ballots and place them inside two sealed envelopes. These envelopes are then taken back to an election station, and only counted once all other votes have been cast.

This is consistent with the IEC’s explanation, and the events in the video. None of the envelopes shown in the video appear to be unsealed or tampered with, and there is no evidence that special voting procedure has not been followed.

Independent observers and party agents oversee voting

South Africa’s electoral act, legislation which governs how elections are conducted, lists several measures to ensure that elections are fair and trustworthy. These include the presence of observers and party agents.

Election observers are independent volunteers who may be present at voting stations during voting, counting, and declaration of results to ensure that the election proceeds fairly. 

Similarly, party agents are representatives from South African political parties who may, like observers, be present to oversee the election process. Speaking about the video of special voting envelopes being added to ballot boxes, the IEC said on X: “Party agents may observe and record the proceedings to ensure transparency, which explains the origin of this video.”

Observers, party agents, members of the public and any other “interested party” may lodge an objection if they suspect that proper election procedure has not been followed. In this case, there is no evidence that observers took any issue with the special voting process.

At the time that Herman Mashaba shared this video, the IEC had commented on it hours earlier. This comment was later repeated by news organisation News24. At the time of writing, Mashaba has not acknowledged the IEC’s clarification on his official X account. As a high-profile politician, Mashaba has a duty to ensure that he shares accurate information about the process of the election.

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