South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission faced a daunting task in January 1994. The newly established body had less than four months to organize and implement the country's first fully inclusive democratic elections. The stakes were high. A successful vote would signal a new beginning for the nation after the apartheid era. Failure could mean civil war. Choosing suitable polling sites, dealing with parties' distrust, reaching alienated and possibly hostile communities, addressing potential spoiler issues and remedying shortages of electoral materials posed formidable challenges. The commission's difficulties snowballed. In the end, however, all parties accepted the election results and the Government of National Unity went ahead as planned. The elections offer an example of how an electoral commission can sustain political will-of parties and the public-to overcome administrative shortcomings in extremely sensitive circumstances. The case study discusses location of polling stations, temporary polling facilities, candidate access, ballots and ballot counting.
Amy Mawson drafted this case study on the basis of interviews conducted in Pretoria and Johannesburg, South Africa, in February 2010. To learn more about the second post-apartheid elections in South Africa, see "Using Conflict Management Panels to Resolve Tension in the Second Post-Apartheid Election."