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Cablegate: South Africa: Election Excitement Among Voters And

P 051206Z DEC 08
FM AMCONSUL JOHANNESBURG
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6344
INFO AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN PRIORITY
AMCONSUL DURBAN PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY PRETORIA PRIORITY
AMCONSUL JOHANNESBURG

UNCLAS JOHANNESBURG 000195


DEPT FOR CA/ACS/AF FOR ELIZABETH GRACON, CHIEF VOTING ACTION OFFICER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CASC CMGT
SUBJECT: SOUTH AFRICA: ELECTION EXCITEMENT AMONG VOTERS AND
NON-VOTERS

REF: 7 FAM 1551

1. SUMMARY. Post observed a high, perhaps even unprecedented,
level of participation among the American electorate living in
South Africa during the 2007/2008 election cycle. Election
interest extended beyond the American electorate to
international media, foreign expatriates, and the general South
African population. Post estimates direct assistance to at least
1,000 Amcit voters, and we disseminated messages promoting
election participation to hundreds more through radio
announcements, warden messages, and announcements on the
Mission's website. The Democrats Abroad organization was active
in South Africa, hosting voter registration drives and featuring
prominently in South Africa's media. END SUMMARY.

Post Assists About 1,000 Potential Amcit Voters

2. Post assisted approximately 1,000 Amcits during the 2008
election cycle. Post helped voters access and return about 200
Federal Post Card Applications (FPCAs) and about 200 Federal
Write-in Absentee Ballots. Assistance to other Amcit voters ran
the gamut from providing advice on state-by-state regulations to
explaining options for the return of voted ballots. During
Absentee Voting Week, Post set-up a drop box for voted ballots
at the public entrance of the Consulate and routinely referred
voters to the special FedEx rate for couriering completed
ballots to the U.S. if voters were trying to return their
ballots within two weeks of November 4, 2008.

3. Amcit voters contacted the Consulate for assistance via
email and phone and by walking into our waiting room during
regular ACS business hours. According to Post's two ACS LES,
this was the busiest election season they had ever observed.
Both LES have served in the ACS section for more than 12 years
(at least three presidential election cycles).


Outreach: From Voting Drives to Radio Shows

4. To promote voter awareness and participation, post undertook
a range of outreach activities. Three of the major highlights
were:
- On Consular Leadership Day in January 2008, the VAO
provided voting information to the Mission's five USG agencies
to ensure USG employees had registered overseas and were
equipped to participate.
- On February 22, 2008, the VAO held a voter registration
drive at the American Society's annual reception. Approximately
75 Amcits attended the reception; at least 25 people completed
FPCAs and more than 40 Amcits obtained voting information.
- On July 5, 2008, the VAO set-up a voter registration tent
at the American community's annual July 4th celebration, which
more than 200 people attended. Approximately 50 Amcits
completed FPCAs during the event and 100 other prospective
voters took Post's notices on how to register absentee,
state-by-state deadlines, South Africa's toll-free helpline, etc.

5. To provide the latest voting information to Amcit voters
registered with the Consulate, post sent warden messages
regarding key dates and about events such as Absentee Voting
Week. Post posted regular announcements on the Mission's
website, poster displays in the Consulate waiting area, and
notices published in the American Society's newsletters and
through a well-known website for expatriates living in South
Africa (www.xpat.co.za).

6. To reach potential voters not necessarily registered with
the U.S. Mission, post leveraged Johannesburg's most popular
talk radio show (FM 702). Collaborating with our Public Affairs
Office, consular staff recorded a one minute public announcement
about Absentee Voting Week and participated in a thirty-minute
radio interview to inform voters about how to access FWABs,
where to find state-by-state voting guidance (www.fvap.gov), and
options for mailing voted ballQs to the U.S. During Absentee
Voting Week, the Consul General also participated in an
interview on one of South Africa's top music stations (Five FM)
discussing the election and encouraging all Amcits living in
South Africa to make their voices heard.

FVAP Voting Workshop Via DVC

7. In December 2007, Post hosted a FVAP workshop via DVC with
the Consulates General in Cape Town and Durban. Post's ACS
staff gained valuable information regarding correct registration
procedures and the wealth of information available through the
FVAP website. All those who attended agreed that the DVC proved
extremely beneficial throughout election season. Notices from
Consular Affairs and the Voting Info Newsletters were also very
helpful to post.


Democrats Abroad: An Active Player in South Africa

8. The organization Democrats Abroad played an active role in
South Africa, especially in the Johannesburg area. Democrats
Abroad promoted voter registration, hosting three voter
registration drives (two in Johannesburg and one in Pretoria)
and private house parties also known as "rallies." According
to the head of Democrats Abroad, Courtney Priester, the
organization helped approximately 750 potential Amcits register
to vote absentee. Of these 750 voters, Priester estimated that
250 had never voted before, did not know where they were
registered to vote, or were unsure if they had ever registered
to vote previously. Democrats Abroad also estimated that it
assisted approximately 125 voters with the return of their voted
ballots to the U.S.

9. Democrats Abroad received significant press. "There was a
great deal of interest from South Africa's media in this
election," Priester said. He estimated that he participated in
at least 10 different television interviews prior to the
election on channels such as SABC International, ENews, and News
24. While his evidence is anecdotal, Priester remarked that
interest from the South African media and public could not be
compared to 2004. "There was huge interest in the election not
only among Americans living in South Africa but among South
Africans generally. Like trends across America, I think more
Amcits living in South Africa voted in this election than in
past elections," he told the VAO on December 3, 2008. To Post's
knowledge, there is not an active organization with Republican
representation in South Africa.

Lessons Learned

10. Numerous voters were under the impression that they needed
to come to the Consulate in person to complete voter
registration forms and the voted ballot. Post needs to
emphasize in all of its online announcements and warden messages
that Amcits can access FPCAs and FWABs through www.fvap.gov
and do not need to make a special trip into
the Consulate to obtain these resources.


11. Approximately 20-30 Amcits complained to the Consulate that
they had attempted to register absentee (they had sent in their
FPCAs) but never received voting materials or confirmation of
registration. During the next election cycle, the Consulate
should tailor messages in its newsletter and online
announcements to address such issues. Post needs to emphasize
that voters should not wait more than 1-2 months for
confirmation of absentee registration and urge voters to contact
their local board of elections or a voting assistant with FVAP
(through the toll free number) to seek specific advice regarding
their registration.


Press Coverage

12. As mentioned above, Post's voter outreach received coverage
on Johannesburg's "Talk Radio 702" and "Five FM" radio station.
An article in the Mail & Guardian newspaper and a radio
interview with Agence France-Presse also covered Post's voting
promotion efforts.

13. COMMENT: Post witnessed significant election excitement
not only among potential Amcit voters but also among non-voters,
including members of the media and South African residents in
Johannesburg. Post received numerous inquiries from first-time
voters and voters who had not voted in recent elections. While
much of the evidence is anecdotal, it appears that the American
electorate in South Africa was similar to the American
electorate in America; voters were engaged and enthusiastic and
turning out in higher numbers than in 2004 and 2000. END
COMMENT.


PASSEN

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