Some 59% of eligible SA citizens voted

IN his No Holy Cows column of May 15, Mandla Seleoane makes a rather startling and flawed assertion that 64% of voters failed to vote in the election ("64% of voters didn't vote").

When the voters' roll was finalised and certified on March 5 as per the legislation, it contained 25390150 registered voters and this figure has never vacillated. It is also important to point out that this represents 2208153 (9.5%) more voters than were on the voters' roll for the 2009 general elections and 7.2 million (39.72%) more than were on the voters' roll when it was established for the first time for the 1999 elections.

When compared against the estimate of eligible voters according to the Statistics South Africa population estimates (31434035), this reflects a registration level of 80.8%.

During this month's election, 18654771 people voted. This reflects a turnout of 73.48% against the total number of eligible voters (voters' roll).

Even when compared to the total number of people who were eligible to register and vote according to Stats SA (31434035), the turnout was 59.34%.

Seleoane boosts his number of potential voters who "missed out" by increasing the total by 5.4% which he says is the number of voters who would have reached voting age during the six months from November last year to May this year.

This is respectfully incorrect for three reasons. First, voters had until February 25 this year to register for the elections – including well-publicised country-wide registration weekends held in November last year and February this year which yielded 2.3 million new registrations.

Second, registration is open to voters younger than 18 – in fact, voters can register as soon as they receive an ID document, which is 16 years old. The final voters' roll number in fact excluded more than 132000 registered voters aged 16 or 17 and who would not be 18 years old by May 7 this year.

Third, Statistics South Africa estimates the population growth at approximately 1.34% – so in the three months between the final registration weekend on February 9 and the election day on May 7 the total growth of eligible voters would have been just 421216. Adding this to the total eligible voting age population you get 31855251 potential voters.

The last point which we would caution against is Seleoane's comparison between 1994 and subsequent elections. Seleoane claims just 13.1% of eligible voters failed to vote in our historic 1994 elections.

This is an unverifiable figure. No one disputes the enthusiasm with which people voted in 1994 – which ultimately resulted in additional election days being held to accommodate the many millions of voters.

But with no voters' roll in 1994 it is impossible to know exactly how many potential voters there were – and meaningless to attempt to make comparisons with the more recent elections.

Whichever way you calculate it, the overwhelming majority of potential voters in South Africa participated and had their say in choosing the party of their choice on May 7. For this I am deeply grateful that our multiparty democracy remains vibrant.

Mosotho Moepya, chief electoral officer, IEC