Thursday, June 4, 2009

STUDENT REFLECTIONS - Independent Electoral Commission - Austin Roberts

It was May 19, and I had just returned from an adventure out on the streets of Cape Town, discovering the perils of the Mini-Bus Taxi system with Artesia and Krista. I was a bit winded after climbing up the steps to the guest house, when Prof. McDuff pulled me aside and informed me that another adventure was about to begin for me. My plans for interning with the Independent Electoral Commission had just changed; Debriefing meetings were taking place all around the western Cape, and I was invited to spend this week of interning out with Granville and the other IEC officials. A few hours later I found myself in Caledon, in the first hotel room I hadn’t had to share with anyone. The IEC was a most gracious host, covering all of my expenses as we journeyed across the cape, to Worcester and then Saldanha. The South African countryside is like nothing I’ve ever seen, an endless horizon of mountains and pastures and winding roads. The meetings were long discussions about what had transpired in the elections a month ago, with a chance for regional supervisors to bring up any major problems that occurred. I got an intimate view of the logistics and operational procedures that the IEC goes through to provide free and fair elections. Also, in Saldanha I saw a sailor who was dressed like a pirate. After three days, I returned back to Bellville to get a tour of where I would be working, and then made the long mini-bus taxi adventure back to Tamboerskloof.
The next two weeks were an adventure of another kind, that of bureaucracy. For the first few days, I analyzed data from an excel spreadsheet that detailed the problem of vote spoilage at a regional level. Overall, vote spoilage wasn’t catastrophic, with about 1% of ballots needing to be thrown out because voters didn’t follow proper voting procedures, but in a few outlier precincts that ratio jumped substantially, with the worst having 21% of ballots being thrown out. I was also supposed to analyze data involving the Section 24A law that allows voters to vote at any voting station, instead of where they’re registered. Unfortunately, this data didn’t arrive. The upside to this is that I got to talk with some of the people at the office, and I’m getting pretty good at FreeCell.
Another part of my experience was the commute. In order to get 12 miles away to the IEC office in Bellville, I would walk 5 blocks to Kloof Street, take a minibus taxi to the hub on top of the train station downtown, and take a Bellville minibus all the way to my office on Voortrekker St. in Bellville. All told, it would usually take me between an hour and a half to two hours to get twelve miles down the road, but it was certainly an experience being in a 12 passenger van with 20 other people, weaving in and out of traffic as the driver cut off every other car and van in Perow, often using curbs or sidewalks as a means to an end. All that and I haven’t gotten mugged or pickpocketed! Neat! I’ve also really enjoyed the other things we’ve done, especially our outings to Robben Island, Cape Point and Kirstenbosch.

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