Prisoners to be denied the right to vote on May 8

Some prisoners are unhappy with the seeming disenfranchisement.

A good number of  prisoners could be denied access to vote in the upcoming national and provincial elections.

The national and provincial elections on May 8 this year will have to take place without the votes of those prisoners who do not have ID documents.

This is after the South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (SAPOHR) on a technical point failed in its bid to force government and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to either assist prisoners without ID documents, to free of charge re-issue them with temporary documents, or to allow them to vote for now without these documents.

SAPOHR also asked the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to convene a registration weekend specifically for prisoners, so that they could be registered on the national voters roll.

But the organisation failed to step over the first hurdle after Judge Leicester Adams said he could not entertain the matter on the urgent roll.

He said SAPHOR knew since 2010 that prisoners, just like other citizens of this country, needed a valid ID document to be able to register as a voter.

In 2014, shortly before the previous elections, the organisation turned to the urgent court for a similar order. The matter was at the time also struck from the roll due to technical reasons. Judge Adams said one would have expected SAPOHR at the time to have reinstated the matter on the normal roll, which it did not.

The organisation in April last year complained to the government that prisoners without ID documents would not be able to vote in this coming elections. Again nothing was done about it, until they now turned to court. The judge said while this was indeed a matter of national importance, he could not entertain it as SAPOHR had created its own urgency by launching the application at this late stage.

All the respondents – the ministers of Home Affairs, Finance, Justice and Correctional services as well as the IEC asked that the matter be struck due to a lack of urgency.

They all argued that SAPOHR knew for nine years that an ID document was a requirement to register to vote and said the organisation cannot now, at the last minute, turn to court.

The organisation in its application asked the court to rule that prisoners could waiver the R140 it would cost to be re-issued with an ID document, as the many prisoners who had either lost or had their documents stolen, could not afford the fee.

It was said that the provisions forcing voters to have an ID document, curtailed the rights of prisoners for the past nine years. The organisation said it did try to take the issue up with government and the IEC over the past nine years, but with no luck.

The court was told that prisoners should be furnished with ID documents – free of charge – so that they could exercise their right to vote. As things now stand, it was argued, their constitutional right to cast their vote is being denied.

The IEC, in its argument, said it is up to Parliament, not the courts, to determine the means by which voters must identify themselves to register as voters.

SAPOHR head Golden Miles Budhu, meanwhile said they will approach the court in time for the local government elections, to ensure that prisoners can vote.


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