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Registration of voters, an election on its own
September 16, 2011
Much has been
said about the need for a new voters' roll in Zimbabwe over
the past months and the debate has come to a head in current discourse
around the roadmap to elections and the recently gazetted Electoral
Amendment Bill. The debate has prompted the Registrar of Voters
to challenge anyone dismissing the roll to come and inspect it as
he believes that it is probably one of the best in the world. In
as much as he has trashed suppositions that Zimbabwe's Voters'
Roll is in shambles, the very people that participate in elections
such as political parties, civic society organisations and ordinary
voters clearly do not have confidence in the document. In fact,
the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) has repeatedly and categorically
called for the cleaning up of the current voters' roll.
That being the
case, the Election Resource Centre (ERC) seeks to ignore the Registrar
of Voters' comments about the state of the Voters' Roll
and instead explore possible voter registration methodologies that
the state could embark on ahead of the next poll. The submission
below will seek to place into a context, perceptions about the roll
and the fact that as the primary election document, any negative
perception on such a document by election stakeholders not only
opens up any election premised on it to rejection, but also promotes
The ERC further
wishes to point out that in as much as voter registration has to
be comprehensively and inclusively conducted, the success of such
a process, regardless of the methodology, lies in its accessibility
to the very people that are supposed to register and the opportunities
available for scrutiny of such a document by election stakeholders.
the ERC is convinced that any voter registration methodology that
the Election Management Body decides to embark on can be comprehensive
enough as long as the electorate can freely participate in the process
of registering and parties that will participate in the election
have unlimited access to scrutinise and audit the document on time.
It is therefore
prudent that the political environment under which future voter
registration processes are conducted allows for the exercise of
one's freedoms and there is access to accurate and timely
information on the process.
That being said,
a number of submissions have been presented as potential solutions
to Zimbabwe's discredited voters' roll. Election watchdogs
such as the Zimbabwe
Election Support Network and organisations such as the South
African Institute for Race Relations have recommended that a credible
election in Zimbabwe can only happen if the country adopts the usage
of a biometric system. Such submissions have largely been centred
on the need to add security features that are aimed at eliminating
the six flaws that have been identified in the current voters'
of deceased persons
of under age individuals
- Unclear sex
voter registration methodology, the registering authority is able
to collect more than just one's name, identification number,
residential address, sex among other things. The method, which has
proven quite popular in emerging democracies such as Nigeria, Tanzania,
Zambia and Gambia, captures biometric data such as the voters'
finger prints and photographic image and then assigns a barcode
to the data.
It is widely
believed that the system, which is computerised and centralised,
is able to detect once an individual attempts to register more than
once as his details are unique and hence limits multiple registration.
Owing to its computerised nature, the methodology is also able to
reject incomplete data such as unclear sex and incomplete addresses.
Given the above
assertions, it would be logical for Zimbabweans to clamour for biometric
voter registration as it clearly addresses four of the key challenges
identified with our current voters' roll. The other two challenges
can also be comprehensively dealt with if the system is linked to
the birth and death register and the electorate is adequately educated
to understand the importance of registering births and deaths and
the processes are easily accessible to everyone.
ERC is cognisant of the fact that processes that are meant to be
inclusive and participatory in nature often confront difficulties
if the environment in which they are conducted is not conducive.
By environment, the ERC refers to the political climate and the
question here should be are communities free to participate in the
process. From past experiences, participation and free participation
are different in the Zimbabwean context. The Constitutional
making outreach process provides clear evidence of this fact
in our immediate past. In some rural areas, communities came out
to participate and in fact participated through attending the ward
meetings but only assigned "spokespersons" participated
as they were the only ones permitted to contribute during the discussions.
to accurate information and not just access to information is also
central in processes that are supposed to be participatory. If the
objective of voter registration is to capture a true record of potential
voters and to afford every adult of voting age an opportunity to
exercise their constitutional and democratic right to vote, then
emphasis should be placed on dissemination of accurate information
about the registration process.
Again from previous
election experience some political parties have thrived on provision
of false electoral information. communities have been convinced
that the ballot is not secret and that in fact when one folds their
ballot paper and shows it to the polling officials, "ZANU
PF" is able to see how one would have voted. Through biometric
voter registration's use of advanced technology to capture
potential voters' details, there is limit to what those politicians
who thrive on misinformation are likely to tell rural and marginalised
voters what the system actually allows them to predict.
As the voter
registration debate continues, the ERC strongly urges all election
stakeholders to carefully consider the implication of any voter
registration methodology to be used ahead of the next poll. The
ERC supports a process that will not only be inclusive but transparent
and conducted in an environment free of intimidation and violence.
in Zimbabwe will in fact be an election on its own and therefore
the same demands being made about the next election also aptly apply
ahead of this process. Such conditions include security sector reforms,
media reforms, reforms to ZEC and all bodies mandated with conducting
election related processes such as the Registrar of Voters, an end
to violence and removal of all infrastructure of violence such as
bases and the disbanding of youth militia.
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