The effect of the electoral institutions on voter turnout in South African elections : a zoom-in on the electoral participation patterns of the electorate in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) 2011 local elections.
Electoral systems have far-reaching political consequences in representative democracies and are arguably the cornerstone of electoral democracies. A country’s electoral system directly determines among other things the inclusiveness, representativeness and by implication the credibility and legitimacy of the political system. This paper explores the relationship between the electoral system and electoral participation levels in South Africa focusing on the 2011 local elections. Voter turnout in the local elections has been worryingly low and may undermine the democratic gains made since the demise of apartheid in 1994. This analysis opines that the mechanical features of the mixed electoral system used for local elections in South Africa may exert certain psychological effects on the political parties and the voters alike, thus affecting their propensity to participate in the elections. The electoral formula, proportionality, district magnitude, the effective number of parties and the threshold of representation influence the nature of competition and more importantly the election outcome. Using a regression analysis based on the 2011 municipal election results in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) province in South Africa the study finds that there is indeed a relationship between these features and voter turnout patterns in the various local municipalities in the province. The results show that the electoral system may not the only factor affecting turnout rates in the elections, but it is nevertheless an important. The manipulability of electoral systems offers the electoral engineers and policymakers a chance to improve turnout in the local elections.