Using your own pen in South Africa’s municipal elections not mandatory, but recommended

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Multiple Facebook posts shared in South Africa ahead of local government elections claim that voters need to bring their own pens to mark their ballots. The claim is misleading; while South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) did encourage voters to bring their own pens as a Covid-19 safety precaution, it said pens would be provided as well.

Facebook posts (here, here and here) shared in the days before the November 1 elections include an official IEC poster showing an icon of a pen with a message that says: “BRING YOUR OWN PEN”.

“On Election Day, pens will not be provided by the IEC. This means that in order to vote, you need to bring your own pen. The reason for this is to curb the spread to the Covid 19 pandemic. Share this message (sic),” reads one post’s caption.

A screenshot of a misleading Facebook post, taken on November 1, 2021

The IEC poster itself does not say voters would be turned away should they show up at the voting station without a pen, as the numerous posts claim.

In fact, the IEC specifically indictaed it would be supplying pens.

“The Electoral Commission will provide pens and sanitise them after each use. Voters are encouraged to bring their own pens,” reads a tweet published on the verified IEC account on October 30, 2021.

An earlier tweet offered a more in-depth explanation: “The pandemic has made us rethink everything, even pens! The Electoral Commission will provide pens and sanitise them after each use. Voters are encouraged to bring their own pens to help reduce the spread of #COVID19.”

An AFP reporter confirmed that pens were issued to voters at one of the polling stations in Soweto where President Cyril Ramaphosa was seen casting his vote.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa casts his ballot in Soweto, on November 1, 2021, during South Africa’s local elections ( AFP / MICHELE SPATARI)

Local government elections

As reported by AFP, South Africans went to the polls on November 1, 2021. The outcome of the municipal elections is expected to reflect a growing discontent with the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

About 26 million people registered to vote, out of an eligible population of around 40 million.

They would be electing local councillors in 257 municipalities out of more than 300 parties.

An electoral commission official prepares ballot papers in the north of Pretoria, on November 1, 2021, during South Africa's local elections ( AFP / PHILL MAGAKOE)