SA election body rejects Linux users

By   |  August 28, 2008

Fourteen years ago South Africa buried Apartheid and, for the first time ever, all South Africans were able to vote in democratic national elections. It was a pivotal moment in South African history.

It’s a pity, however, that the South African Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which runs democratic elections in the country, finds it unnecessary to allow South Africans to access its website.

Visiting the IEC website with anything other than Windows and Internet Explorer rewards users with the following message:

“Our server detected that you are using a Browser or Operating System (e.g. Netscape, Mozilla Firefox, etc) which is
currently incompatible with our site. This web site is designed for Microsoft Internet Explorer versions 4 and above on Microsoft Windows. The IEC is currently in the process of enhancing the web site so that it will also cater for other browsers. We apologize for the inconvenience caused.”

The fact that the IEC website doesn’t work on anything but IE and Windows – I tried Opera and IE on Linux using Wine – is an anomaly.

The South African government has an approved open source strategy and has published Minimum Interoperability Standards for Information Systems in government which commits government and its agents to open standards.

It’s a poor show from an organisation entrusted with facilitating democracy in the country.

The good news is that there are people of influence within government that are aware of this. Department of Science and Technology CIO, Aslam Raffee, was the person who first pointed out the IEC website to me.

Lets hope that the IEC can fix this problem before the next national elections when it will become important for All South Africans to be able to access the website.

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Comments

14 Responses to “SA election body rejects Linux users”

  1. Jean
    August 28th, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

    Part of the message states: “The IEC is currently in the process of enhancing the web site so that it will also cater for other browsers.”

    There is hope I guess …

  2. Alastair
    August 28th, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

    @Jean:
    There is hope. But the question, I suppose, is why they went down this exclusive route in the first place.

  3. Nicki
    August 28th, 2008 @ 1:46 pm

    If you develop a website for internal use only where you can control the browsers, yes, do whatever you like (IE is a bad choice IMO anyway). But if you develop a website accessible from the internet by people with free choice, accept that they would want to use any major browser, and test your site with all major browsers.

    My 2c.

  4. Octavian
    August 28th, 2008 @ 2:50 pm

    I think it is rather a programming fault, i.e. depending on the development tools used to create the site. I used Mozilla Firefox and the Agent Switcher add-on. After “simulating” the IE identity, the site works with no problems within Firefox too. Maybe it’s not so bad as we think… Let them correct their homework !

  5. Nkhumishe
    August 29th, 2008 @ 8:34 am

    Is there a way we can protest this? Petition the IEC perhaps? This a difficult condition to accept, considering the effort made by everyone, including Microsoft (ahem: pardon me – the bull spoken by M$@ Govtech on Open Standards) towards the development and use of open standards

  6. Raoul
    August 29th, 2008 @ 9:28 am

    Unfortunately, if my memory serves me correctly, the IEC site has said that same thing since the 1999 elections, so my hope of them ever actually “fixing” it has pretty much disappated.

  7. Dwayne Bailey
    August 29th, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    Hey I sent them a nice email at webmaster@elections.org.za.

    Well since we localise Firefox and Firefox this is of course a concern for us. With 19% market share worldwide and about 14% in South Africa they aren’t making a technology decision they are now actually excluding a significant number of South Africans.

    @Octavian – sure I could believe that. But then whoever designed that website is not a very good website designer.

    I also used the switcher on Firefox and was able to see a rather ugly website :) Interestingly if you switch off the switcher you can still browse but there are some pretty nasty rendering bugs. I also found a ton of .xls and .doc files so I guess they’ve missed the link to the MIOS.

    OK moving this on. Instead of us complaining on Tectonic to our small select group who understands the broader issues but really shouting in the wilderness. I was wondering how we can organise.

    A small army of people who can email independently to these organisations, that is polite, that conveys a common message, that understands why things might be bad. I.e. no rude people, no nasty messages. A 100 people could end up spending very little time to make a big difference.

  8. Deane
    August 29th, 2008 @ 11:38 am

    I spoke with one of their techies a few years ago and he said that a Microsoft subsidiary had developed their site as part of a larger contract to create an electoral management system. Without the knowledge of the IEC they created a site hostile to non-IE users.

  9. Malcolm Simpson
    August 29th, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

    This is not so much a technical issue as one of a political and governance nature, methinx. You will recall the not-so-hidden agendas of certain officials looking after MS interests, coupled to the need to avoid being targetted by the Auditor General of ‘fruitless and wasteful’ expenditure (a la PFMA) for licensing expenditure already incurred. If it really is a technical issue, fire the incompetent fools…

  10. JohnG
    August 29th, 2008 @ 3:38 pm

    With Konqueror set the Browser identification to IE4.01 for the site and it becomes available. Not beautiful, drop downs paste all over etc but most info seems available. Thank goodness for OSS features!!

    I agree that at least public institutions should be more responsible to the public and law makers.

    John

  11. Raoul
    August 29th, 2008 @ 3:56 pm

    Ever tried the Public Works site? It doesn’t.

  12. spedoinkle
    September 29th, 2008 @ 10:30 am

    if you’re on windows, use ie tab add on in firefox. works every time. or just change your useragent 😉

  13. David
    September 29th, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

    What shocks me as much as anything is that South Africa is the true home of Ubuntu (isn’t it?).

    I’d have thought that national pride alone would be reason enough to make the site open to other browsers.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    October 8th, 2008 @ 7:24 am

    …… stupid especially when any browser will view it fine. (did the change id trick on Konqueror) This vendor tyin is so ’95, where are these people? Why are they still so far behind? Ahh Africa, bureaucratic, backward basket-case, the whole corrupt continent.

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