South Africa: Delimitation process and voting stations

Updated July 2016

The Delimitation Directorate of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is responsible for delimiting (or subdividing) the entire geographic area of South Africa into voting districts, with the assistance of a Geographical Information System or GIS (an electronic mapping system) which is managed by the IEC's GIS Directorate. A voting district is a geographical area that has been drawn by the IEC to serve the dual purpose of minimising electoral fraud (caused by registered voters voting more than once in an election), and ensuring electoral administrative efficiency.

Each voting district is serviced by one voting station only. A voter residing in a voting district may register and vote only in the voting district in which that voter is ordinarily resident. Once registered, a voter's name will appear only on the segment of the Voters' Roll for the voting district at which the voter registered. This thus minimises the possibility of a voter voting more than once in an election.

Voting districts have also been delimited so as to minimise voter inconvenience (voters having to stand in long queues at voting stations) and to assist in electoral logistical planning. Voting districts are principally determined on the basis of geographical size and number of eligible voters. Urban voting districts contain some 3 000 voters located within a radius of some 7.5 km of the voting station. Rural voting districts accommodate some 1 200 voters located within a radius of some 10 km of the voting station.

The concepts 'delimitation' and 'demarcation' are often used interchangeably. For the purposes of electoral management, the drawing of (outer) municipal boundaries is called 'demarcation' and is the legal responsibility of the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB; http://www.demarcation.org.za/). The MDB is also legally responsible for the drawing of municipal ward boundaries; this is termed 'delimitation'. Accordingly, the drawing of electoral districts (such as voting districts and wards) is known as `delimitation'. Importantly though, the IEC's voting districts do not have political significance (as do wards) but have been created for electoral efficiency and planning purposes.

In preparation for the coming municipal elections, the MDB has delimited ward boundaries on the basis of the IEC's voting district boundaries. A ward will contain one or several voting districts.

How are voting districts formed, and do voting districts change in shape over time?

  • Various data sources (topographic, cadastral, census information) have been accessed by the IEC in the delimitation of voting districts. Data sources include the Surveyor-General, the Department of Land Affairs and Statistics SA.
  • Before each election, maps of voting districts in municipalities are inspected by municipal IEC representatives with a view to aligning the geography of voting districts in accordance with local geographic, settlement, demographic and political changes that may have occurred after the previous election. Municipal IEC representatives also confirm and locate voting stations to be used for all voting districts. This review exercise is done in conjunction with municipal political party representatives.
  • Outside of periods of electoral preparation, there is a continual revision of voting districts in accordance with municipal-level geographic, demographic, settlement and political dynamics to ensure the optimal spatial configuration of voting districts in accordance with local specificities.
  • The geography of voting districts is also aligned to new statutory boundaries as determined by institutions such as the Municipal Demarcation Board (outer municipal and ward boundaries).
  • In addition, the voting district data set is continuously enhanced with the incorporation into the GIS of updated base data (cadastral, topographic, census-related information, etc) from a variety of sources.