Good news for voting from outside South Africa

South Africans living or travelling abroad can register to vote online for the country’s national elections for the first time.

The online voter registration system for South African expats was rolled out in early December 2023, after a two-month delay.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa’s (IEC’s) electoral operations manager, James Aphane, recently told eNCA that the number of South African expats registered on the system surpassed 30,000 and that the commission expected this number to climb to over 50,000.

“The number could increase. We are really looking forward to the big number,” Aphane said.

To put that into perspective, the total number of South Africans voting outside the country in the 2019 national elections was 19,009, less than half the new registrations performed online in less than two months.

Although the IEC launched an online voter registration system back in 2021, it was limited to residents who could participate in that year’s municipal elections.

You are not eligible to vote in municipal elections if you live abroad.

In local elections, voters must make their mark at a voting station in the ward where they reside, choosing a representative to act on their community’s behalf at the municipal level.

Similarly, you must vote at a station within your province to participate in provincial elections.

But anyone with South African citizenship — whether residing within the country or overseas — can vote in the national elections.

International voting stations very limited

At least 915,000 South Africans live in other countries — constituting about 5.2% of the total number of people who voted in the 2019 national elections.

The IEC runs 125 overseas voting centres, including embassies, high commissions and consulates.

However, this number is relatively small when considering how big and widespread South Africa’s diaspora is.

In Australia, with around 206,000 South African expats, the only voting centre is in its capital city, Canberra.

As of 2021, over 38,700 people born in South Africa lived in greater Perth, earning it the nickname “Perthtoria”. Perth is 3,700km from Canberra.

Perth is a highly popular emigration destination for South Africans, but it is nearly three times the distance between Johannesburg and Cape Town to the nearest voting station.

This might explain the less-than-encouraging voter registration rate in that country.

Despite being South Africa’s second-most popular emigration destination, Australia only had the eighth-highest online voter registrations as of 25 January 2024.

Just 588 people had registered to vote, working out to just 0.29% of the estimated expat population.

In the United States, with more than 139,000 expats, there are just three voting centres — in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC.

Prominent European countries and the United Kingdom (UK) have just one voting centre each.

The UK has the largest number of South African expats — over 217,000 as of 2021.

The country is significantly smaller than Australia, which could explain its higher registration rate.

As of 25 January 2024, 5,938 expats in the UK had registered using the online system, about 2.74% of the estimated number of South Africans living there.

For some citizens, it was simply not worthwhile to travel to the centre to register and then have to travel that distance again to cast their vote.

With online voter registration now available to South Africans living or travelling abroad, only one trip will be necessary.

How to register online

To vote as a South African living overseas, you must meet the following criteria:

  • are a registered voter;
  • are 18 years of age (you can register to vote from age 16);
  • have a valid South African ID (green barcoded ID book, or a smartcard ID, or a valid Temporary Identity Certificate).
  • have a South African passport (including a temporary passport) valid between the election period (May to August 2024)

Those who registered while living in South Africa but moved overseas must re-register their details with the diplomatic mission where they wish to vote.

Travellers who are only out of the country for a limited time but want to vote at an international voting station must submit an online special vote application called VEC 10.

To register to vote online as a South African living or travelling abroad:

  1. Visit the IEC New Voter Portal and select “Register to vote abroad”
  2. Fill out the details of the country where you reside and your nearest diplomatic mission.
  3. Enter your name, surname and ID number.
  4. Upload supporting documents, including ID and passport.

South African residents who have never voted can also use the online facility to register for this year’s national and provincial elections by selecting the “Register to vote” option and following the steps.

If you are uncertain about your registration status, you can visit the IEC’s Voter Registration page and enter your ID number.

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Good news for voting from outside South Africa