Home News Election 2024: Voting Challenges for South African Citizens Living Abroad

Election 2024: Voting Challenges for South African Citizens Living Abroad

by Thaabit Kamaar

London – Despite the numerous challenges, thousands of overseas South African citizens strive to participate in this year’s national elections. In an interview with Salaamedia, Hayley Reichert, co-founder of Operation Watershed, highlighted several hurdles, including bureaucratic and logistical.

Key issues include travelling great distances to the nearest diplomatic missions, which can be costly and time constraining. Thus, stressing the necessity of temporary voting stations and improved access.

“The key issue is where our foreign missions are based. It’s not necessarily where there are high numbers of South Africans. So, we definitely need to look at improving access to voting.”

Furthermore, the voting process for expatriates is not as straightforward as it may seem. The requirement for both a valid ID and passport, especially if these documents are expired or lost, coupled with the need for them to be up-to-date and processed internationally, adds another layer of complexity.

These barriers, as experienced by Reichert, can prevent expatriates from participating in the voting process, as was the case in the last national elections in 2019.

“I couldn’t vote in 2019 because those abroad had previously had to have both ID and passport. My passport had expired, and the time to get documents abroad is quite a [schlep].”

If these issues persist, the potential consequences are significant. Lower voter turnout among expatriates could lead to a diminished voice and representation in shaping their home country’s future policies and leadership, a situation that could have far-reaching implications.

Security concerns necessitate the closure of missions in countries currently involved in conflicts. Regrettably, voters registered at these missions can only participate in the upcoming elections if they have arranged alternative voting locations.

The IEC’s Preparations to Accommodate Expats

Despite the obstacles, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), in collaboration with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), has recently introduced a series of significant measures. These measures aim to improve South Africans’ voting experience abroad, allowing for a more inclusive and accessible voting process in the upcoming 2024 elections.

Voting for expatriates will be conducted at 111 foreign missions. Residents in Algiers, Amman, Cairo, Kuwait City, Jeddah, Ramallah, Riyadh, and Tehran will cast their votes on May 17. The remaining 102 missions worldwide will hold their elections the following day, on May 18.

The polls are scheduled to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., allowing over 78,000 South Africans to participate in the national vote. However, some locations will have extended voting times to better accommodate citizens.

Hayley Reichert expressed her appreciation for the IEC, especially for the accommodations made in London, where she resides. She anticipates a turnout of at least 16,000 voters in London out of more than 24,000 registered. She also noted that voting in London will include an additional day, Sunday, May 19.

“Thankfully … They have made some significant changes. They will be using a much larger area. Given the two days, most people are going to come on Saturday because most people have already made arrangements to come on Saturday. So I’m anticipating at least 10 to 12,000 will be coming through those doors on Saturday. The balance is on Sunday. But I’m very grateful that they have made that allowance,”

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