ZEC’s draft voter registration regulations a disaster
By Douglas Togaraseyi Mwonzora
Recently, the Zimbabwe Election Commission published the draft regulations to govern the voter registration. These regulations will replace the voter registration rules that were applied in the 2013 elections. It was expected that any new voter registration rules would be designed in such a way as to make voter registration much easier and simpler to the voter. This way they would lead to more enfranchisement than the disenfranchisement of the Zimbabwean people. Yet a closer look at the draft regulations published by ZEC seems to suggest a clear and deliberate designed to disenfranchise a lot of Zimbabweans.
The new registration system is going to be polling station based. What this means is that a person is registered to vote at a particular polling station only. Put in other words a person registered at a particular polling station has to vote at that particular polling station and not at any other polling station. In the discussions between ZEC and political parties it was agreed that the maximum practical number of people who can successfully vote at a single polling station per day would not exceed 1000.
Incomprehensibly, ZEC has increased the number of people who will be registered and therefore eligible to vote at a particular polling station to 1500. This means that because of the constraints of time some Zimbabweans eligible to vote may not be able to cast their votes on the voting day. Clearly history tells us that Harare and other urban areas will be affected most. By the time of the closure of voting long queues of people waiting to cast their votes will still be there. One further wonders why the ZEC is reneging on the agreement it had with political parties to reduce the maximum number of people who can be registered at one polling station to 1000.
Every polling area will have a catchment area for voters. The regulations provide that the boundaries of each polling station will be open for inspection by members of the public. Strangely the same regulations provide that ZEC can alter any of the polling area boundaries at any time. It does not have to proffer a reason for this alteration to anyone nor is it obliged to consult the stakeholders in effecting these alterations. This creates the real possibility of ZEC gerrymandering with the polling area boundaries. Further the period within which these changes can be made is not prescribed. Boundaries can thus be changed two days before an election generating much confusion to the voters.
In terms of these regulations, a person wishing to register as a voter must physically present himself or herself to the registration office. Among other things that he or she must produce is proof of residence. What this means is that people in the Diaspora who want to register to vote must physically travel to Zimbabwe. Logistically this can prove very difficult. This requirement therefore provides an effective method of systematically and effectively disenfranchising the Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. After all registration can only take place in Zimbabwe because of the operation of section 7 of the regulations.
The regulations do not state how a person can prove residence. Suffice to say under these rules a Zimbabwean not resident in Zimbabwe will not be able to register as a voter. Further since the proof of residence is not defined, ZEC officers may demand letters from village heads, traditional chiefs, landlords or councilors. It is unlikely that traditional leaders who are so politically compromised will give confirmation letters to opponents of Zanu PF for example. Equally, Landlords are unlikely to provide proof of residence to tenants of different political persuasions. This may even extent to people of different factions within the same parties.
Although the regulations state that the voter registration system shall be biometric, they do not spell out the biometric features to be recorded in respect of each applicant. Thus the voters may not know the biometric features to supply. This creates a real possibility of malicious omissions by registration officers.
The regulations state that a person who is on the “current “voter register may transfer his or her vote. However it is not clear whether the term “current register” refers to a new voter register or the voters’roll compiled by Mr Mudede. If it refers to the much discredited voter’s roll by Mr Mudede, then the regulation is clearly unconstitutional. This is because in terms of the constitution only the voters roll compiled by ZEC is constitutional and valid. A person who seeks transfer of his or her vote must ordinarily be resident in the new polling area. Thus a Diasporian who makes the journey to Zimbabwe to register to vote may not be able to transfer his vote because; he or she will not be ordinarily resident in the polling area.
In 2013, the officials responsible for registering people in the MDCT strongholds went on an official go slow and would register as few as 5 people a day while expediting the registration in Zanu PF strongholds. For that reason the political parties demanded that during voter registration there should be voter registration agents representing them. These agents would make sure that voter registration is transparent. Although ZEC had agreed with this proposal, the regulations that it has made do not make provision for voter registration agents of political parties. They even provide that the voter registration officers may limit the right of entry into voter registration premises. This provision is meant to prevent legitimate scrutiny of the voter registration process by stakeholders.
While the regulations make provision for inspection of the voter’s rolls, it does not make it mandatory that the periods of inspection must be uniform. Thus it is possible that the period of inspection in Manicaland can be two weeks while in Mashonaland it could be thirty days! Further no person can challenge the voter’s roll 30 days before the election. This is a dangerous provision. The regulations do not provide the time period within which the voter’s roll will be availed to the public or interested parties. If the voters roll is availed less than thirty days before elections as was done to the MDC in 2013, then the voter’s roll is not challengeable no matter how objectionable it may be.
Interestingly, the regulations make reference to forms that they do not provide. Voter registration certificates and voter transfer certificates are provided in forms V1 and V2 respectively. Yet the V1 and V2 forms are left blank in the regulations. One wonders whether this omission is inadvertent or deliberate on the part of ZEC.
In terms of both the Constitution and the Electoral Act interested parties are entitled to both electronic and printed copies of the voter’s roll. Yet the costs of the voter’s rolls are unbelievably prohibitive. For example an electronic voter’s roll in respect of a polling station costs $1. However, Zimbabwe has over 10 000 polling stations. That means that a national party will be required to fork out more than $10 000 for polling station voter’s rolls. If it requires printed polling station voter’s rolls they will cost $10 each. That means in respect of the 10 000 polling stations a party will be required to fork out $100 000!
To its credit, ZEC has called for representations from stakeholders before it formalizes these regulations. It is clear that these regulations are retrogressive and undemocratic. They are outrageous and have to be rejected in toto. If need be they have to be fought tooth, claw and nail.