South Africa: Party and candidate agent observation

Reviewed April 2019

Purpose of party observation

Party agents (or candidate agents, in the case of municipal elections in South Africa) who are present during the electoral process, who are properly trained, and who closely scrutinize electoral operations during voting, counting and tabulation of results, play a critical role in ensuring that elections are properly conducted according to the law, in minimizing the potential for electoral fraud and thereby ensuring electoral integrity and in allaying suspicions of fraud and so contributing to acceptance of the results by the competing political parties. The Ace Knowledge Network's Encyclopedia (2012, 59) notes:

Political parties are in the best position to assess the political environment, identify the obstacles to free campaigning, and understand the political dimensions of the electoral system itself. This is especially true of parties that can establish a presence at all polling stations on election day. Political party monitors are therefore an essential component in maintaining election integrity.

In South Africa the appointment of and the role played by Party Agents during national and provincial elections are laid out in Sections 58 and 59 of the Electoral Act 1998 (in the case of the municipal elections similar provisions are made for party and candidate agents in of the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act No 27 of 2000, 39, 40). These provisions are fleshed out in the Election Regulations, 2004, 3-37A.

Appointment of party agents

Registered parties that are contesting elections are entitled to appoint two agents to attend at each polling station (or if more than one room is used at a voting station, two per room) and four agents for counting station other than polling stations and venues where results summations are made and declared (Electoral Act 1998, 58(1); the Election Regulations (2004, 33) prescribe how agents are appointed by parties and how these are revoked). However, the absence of agents at a venue does not negate the electoral activities undertaken there (Electoral Act 1998, 59(2)). Party agents must be South African citizens and may not be candidates for election (Electoral Act 1998, 58(2)).

Powers and duties of agents

Agents have the right to observe all activities during the voting, counting, summation and proclamation of results (Electoral Act 1998, 59(1)). However, a misbehaving agent may be expelled from a voting station by the electoral official in charge (Electoral Act 1998, 73(4)). Agents may not interfere with proceedings, but must restrict themselves to bringing irregularities to the attention of the electoral officer in charge at the venue and to lodging objections when aggrieved (Election Regulations, 2004, 18(1)).

While present at a venue, agents are required to wear IEC prescribed identification (identifying their agency and party) and comply with instructions from electoral or security staff (Electoral Act 1998, 58(3); the Election Regulation (2004, 59(3)(a)) prescribe the exact form that identification must adhere to). Agents may not campaign, wear party regalia, display party posters or distribute pamphlets in the voting area (Election Regulations, 2004, 36).

Rights of agents

In terms of the Electoral Act 1998, during polling agents are entitled to:

  • Be consulted on the demarcation by the presiding officer of the polling area around the polling station and its security (Section 66(1)).
  • Observe that ballot boxes are empty before they are commissioned and that they are properly secured (Section 37).
  • Observe that full ballot boxes are sealed by the presiding officer and affix their own seals to it (Section 42(1)).
  • Observe assistance given by an electoral officer to illiterate voters in casting their ballots (Section 39; they may not observe if a voter chooses a non-official to assist).
  • Object to the presiding officer to a voter being entitled to vote before the voter is handed a ballot paper or to a voter being refused a ballot paper who they believe is entitled to vote (Section 41(1)).
  • Object to the presiding officer to about the behaviour of anyone in the polling station (Section 41(2)).
  • Observe the completion of forms and sealing of materials after voting has been completed and affix their own seals to the materials (Section 43).

In terms of the Electoral Act 1998, during counting agents are entitled to:

  • Where the counting station is different from the polling station, inspect ballot box seals to ensure that the ballot boxes have not been tampered with, or object to the counting officer's conduct of ballot box verification procedures and be informed of any irregularities or discrepancies discovered by the counting officer and to be present at discussions with the presiding officer aimed at resolving them (Section 52(2), 53; Electoral Regulations 2004, 28(c), 29).
  • Object to perceived irregularities in the sorting of ballot papers by election where more than one election is conducted at the same time (Section 48).
  • May dispute the acceptance or rejection of a ballot as valid by the counting officer (Section 47(5)).
  • Object to perceived inaccuracies in the counting of the vote or the determination of the results and, though the agent cannot force the counting officer to recount, to lodge an appeal against a decision not to recount (Section 49).
  • Be present when packages of special votes cast, both internally or from abroad, are opened and their contents scrutinized and counted (Election Regulations, 2004, 11(9), 12, 15C).


ACE KNOWLEDGE NETWORK 2012 "Monitoring: Political Parties" IN Encylopedia (third edition), [www] [PDF document] (accessed 22 Jul 2016).

ELECTORAL ACT 73 of 1998, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 16 Jul 2016).
ELECTION REGULATIONS, 2004 are here appended to the Act.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: MUNICIPAL ELECTORAL ACT 27 of 2000, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 16 Jul 2016).