On top of managing these political challenges, the commission faced numerous practical handicaps. Most of the commissioners' efforts focused on creating polling places, making sure candidates had access to voters, and drawing potential spoilers, such as the white right and some of the homeland leaders, into the process.
Because there was not enough time to compile a voter roll, determining eligibility would have to take place at each polling station. Yet many potential voters had no identity documents, so the electoral commission had to issue temporary voter cards where necessary. The task was difficult to manage effectively in the limited time available. The Department of Home Affairs initially estimated that two and a half million temporary cards would be needed, but by the end of the election, the commission had issued over a million more than that.
One of the biggest logistical challenges was determining suitable sites for polling stations. The parties agreed that every voter should be able to walk to a polling station, meaning about 9,500 polling sites had to be identified. But the parties disagreed about precisely where the polling stations should be located and often pressured the commission to set up more polling stations in areas where they had the most support.
The commissioners and staff found it hard to pick station locations because they didn't know what facilities were available to use as voting stations. One commission official recalled the lack of current and detailed maps: "The rural areas had never been mapped... [and] there hadn't been a census of black people done in the country since the 1950s." Exacerbating these difficulties was that, in the absence of a voter roll, no one knew how many voters would show up at each polling station. The commission therefore contacted South African Breweries, the largest brewer in the country, and used its distribution figures as a proxy for where people lived. The problem, however, was that not everybody bought beer near their home. As a result, several large polling stations that the commission had planned based on beer sales remained virtually empty on Election Day, while others experienced long lines.
Throughout the four months preparation period, the political parties continued to negotiate aspects of the electoral process. One sudden change was to have separate ballots for the national and provincial elections, rather than one ballot. But an additional ballot box at each polling site meant that 1,500 of the 9,500 sites were too small and that more staff was required. The commissioners opted to use temporary polling stations that could be transported and set up easily. Van der Ross contacted a friend from a large construction firm, and "within 24 hours they actually designed a structure, made a prototype, brought it to Johannesburg, [and] rigged it up in our board room," he said.
Identifying suitable polling sites was also difficult because the commission could not easily access certain areas of the country until near the election. For example, Lucas Mangope, the leader of the homeland Bophuthatswana, did not allow the electoral commission to work in his region and mobilized the Bophuthatswana Defence Force to crush local political dissent. But around mid-March, the Force mutinied, prompting paramilitary members of the Afrikaner Volksfront and the far-right Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) to enter the territory in a bid to shore up Mangope's power. Violence escalated quickly until the South African Defence Force intervened to restore order. Bophuthatswana was subsequently reintegrated into South Africa's administration, and the electoral commission was able to access the territory.
The commission also had to facilitate parties' access to so-called "no-go" areas so that all parties could campaign freely across the country. It launched a program called Operation Access to liaise with local party structures and organize public meetings. Through the program, candidates would travel together in minibuses and address crowds in short speeches. The commission organized 106 Operation Access meetings in total. Only one ended unsuccessfully, when two weeks before the election, candidates from the ruling National Party traveled with the program to campaign in Phola Park, an ANC stronghold southeast of Johannesburg. The candidates encountered a hostile crowd and when told by their army escorts that their safety could no longer be guaranteed, they decided to leave without campaigning.