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Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
of Section 57: A most significant change in the Electoral Law
June 12, 2013
The media reports
today that Cabinet has agreed to the proposed amendments to the
Act, which means the Bill should now go through the parliamentary
process. It is Parliament's duty to scrutinise the Bill and ensure
that it conforms to the new Constitution.
One of the highlights of the changes to the Electoral Act, as highlighted
by the Justice Minister in the media today is the amendment to section
57. This is because s. 57 is one provision that severely compromised
the secrecy of voting, itself a key constitutional right
Section 57 regulates
the manner of voting at the polling station. It states that after
a person has taken the ballot paper and signified the preferred
candidate, he/she is required to "(iii) then fold the ballot
paper so that the official mark is visible and the names of the
candidates and the cross made by him or her are not visible and,
having held up the ballot paper so that the presiding officer can
recognise the official mark, drop the ballot paper in the ballot
box placed in front of the presiding officer …"
The problem with this
provision is that it presents opportunities for intimidation against
the voter, thereby compromising the integrity of the electoral process.
Critics of this provision have long argued that by requiring a voter
to "hold up" his/her ballot paper to an electoral officer,
after making his/her preferred choice, this provision can be and
has been used to scare the voter into thinking that his/her vote
will be seen. The very act of lifting up the ballot paper to show
the official mark to the electoral officer is not only unnecessary
but it also compromised the secrecy of the vote. Election manipulators,
especially in rural constituencies used this provision to con and
intimidate the voter into believing that his/her choice would be
seen by the officers. This meant the voter would be forced to vote
for a candidate that is not his/her choice but the preferred choice
of the intimidators.
Those in support of this
provision argued that it was necessary to ensure that the correct
ballot papers were used for voting. This was unconvincing because
the consequence of using the wrong ballot paper would be that it
would be regarded as spoilt paper resulting in a spoilt vote. A
voter who uses the wrong ballot paper is accepting the risk that
his vote will be regarded as spoilt and will not count. In other
words, the vote would not count. Furthermore, if the idea is to
prevent electoral fraud, there are better ways of achieving that
within the current framework. For example, the authenticity of the
ballot papers can be guaranteed by ensuring that they have serial
numbers or other specific features for verification purposes. The
election agents for candidates will also be stationed in the polling
station to watch over the voting process.
If the media reports
are to be believed, this provision has now been dropped. It will
no longer be necessary for the voter to hold up his/her ballot paper
to show the official mark to the electoral officer. This will remove
the element of fear that has been built around the application of
this provision. The voter must now be educated, especially in rural
areas, that it is no longer necessary to hold up his or her ballot
paper to the electoral officer before inserting it into the ballot
This will enhance the
secrecy of the vote and is in conformity with the voter's political
rights guaranteed under s. 67 of the new Constitution which states
that every Zimbabwean citizen has the right to make political choices
freely. Section 57 of the Electoral Act emasculated the right of
the voter to make political choices freely because of fear and intimidation.
The change is also consistent
with s. 155 (1) of the new Constitution which requires that elections
"must be conducted by secret ballot" because s. 57 compromised
the secrecy of the vote. Finally, the new manner of voting is also
in conformity with s. 156 of the new Constitution which places an
obligation on ZEC to ensure that "whatever voting method is
used, it is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure and transparent".
Overall, the change is
a victory for fairness, transparency and common-sense.
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