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The Referendum Party (RP) is set to challenge the IEC over its unwillingness to accept digital signatures.

The Electoral Amendment Act, 1 of 2023, was signed into law on 17 April 2023. It imposed upon independent candidates and unrepresented parties (political parties who do not hold a seat in the legislature to which they wish to be elected) an obligation to collect thousands of signatures from registered voters.

The Act required the signatures to be submitted in the ‘prescribed manner’, but for ten months the IEC did not prescribe a manner, leaving parties in limbo about how the signatures must be collected.

The RP contacted the IEC and, on 16 August 2023, a senior IEC official confirmed in writing that the signatures could be collected digitally so long as the signatories could be contacted to verify their authenticity.

On 4 December 2023, the Constitutional  Court struck out the signature requirements for independent candidates but left them in place for unregistered parties. The IEC then announced that it would finalise the regulations for signatures but seemingly never did.

On 6 December 2023, the RP formally wrote to the IEC confirming that it intended to collect digital signatures as previously advised and formally asked the IEC to raise any objections it may have no later than 20 December 2023. The IEC did not raise any objections.

The RP then set about successfully collecting the necessary number of digital signatures which is a significant and costly logistical operation for any small party.

On 26 February 2024, the IEC announced that it was now not willing to accept digital signatures, despite having published no regulations which prohibit them, and in direct contradiction to the written guidance they had given the RP. 

The IEC has now stated that the RP must deliver approximately 14 000 physical signatures within the next eight days. A failure to do so would render the RP unable to contest the provincial and national elections.

It will be virtually impossible for a small party such as RP to collect that many signatures in that period of time.

The RP’s legal team has now written to the IEC formally requesting that it review its decision not to accept digital signatures. The requirement for physical signatures does not form part of the Electoral Amendment Act and there is no compelling legal basis to impose such a requirement. A refusal to accept digital signatures is simply an arbitrary and self-imposed IEC policy.

In the event that the IEC is unwilling to amend its position, then the RP will approach the Electoral Court on an urgent basis. Several other political parties have already agreed to join that action should this become necessary.

The purpose of the electoral legislation was to ensure that new parties had sufficient support to warrant them being placed on the ballot, which the RP has done. It was not supposed to create a logistical barrier which prevents parties who do have the requisite level of support from contesting the elections. By doing so, the IEC is seriously infringing the constitutional rights of the Referendum Party candidates and voters.

Copy of the RP's letter to the IEC