THERE have been a lot of questions and debate surrounding access to the voters’ roll. Section 3 of the Electoral Law prescribes that political parties and candidates shall have reasonable access to all material and information necessary for it to participate freely in every election.
By MIRIAM T MAJOME
Opposition parties have been and have always cried foul over the availability and the content of the voters’ roll. At the time of writing, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has not yet released the voters’ roll and it is hoped it will be released as prescribed in a reasonable timely manner.
Nomination Court sat on June 14, so barring the usual expected disputes most of the candidates and political parties contesting have been confirmed. The ground is now set for a short campaign period terminating on July 30. There are many questions raised about the voters’ roll and will address some of the common concerns and explain the important basics. The provisions pertaining the voters’ roll are contained in the Electoral Act Sections 3 and Sections 20-22A. They are explained in a simplified question and answer method.
Who can see the voters’ roll?
Everybody. It is a public document and can be inspected by the any member of the public.
Where can it be inspected?
At Zec offices at the head office in Harare and constituency offices, where it is kept by the constituency registrar.
Can photographs be taken of it?
There is no specific provision for this but people are allowed to take notes when they are inspecting it.
Is it true that only contesting candidates and parties can get copies?
No. Anyone can get a copy from Zec offices upon request and payment of the prescribed fee for the copies.
How much does it cost?
Inspection at the offices is free. It is only copies which are charged. The Act does not stipulate the fees, but stipulates the fees should be reasonable and should not exceed the reasonable cost of making copies.
How long does it take to get a copy?
Zec is obliged to furnish it within a reasonable period of time after it is requested although the actual time frame is not stated. Political parties have reported that they requested the voters’ roll, but that they have not been furnished yet.
In what format is the voters’ roll?
Both printed copies and electronic copies should be made available and should be furnished as per request. One can request either or both formats. Zec has notified that it will be available online but this has not materialised
What if there are differences between the electronic and printed copies?
The information contained in the printed copy will be deemed as the correct information and so the print version will prevail over the electronic version.
What if one does not want the entire national voters’ roll?
Copies are made for sections by constituencies. Each ward or constituency has its own roll kept at the constituency registrar’s offices. The entire roll is cumbersome and costs more to make copies. There are more than five million registered voters so it is extremely bulky, hence it is split into constituencies.
What if Zec has no offices in a constituency?
Each constituency has a registrar who is responsible for keeping copies of the roll for the particular constituency and the wards in it.
What information is contained in a voters’ roll?
Full names of all registered voters, their dates of birth, national registration numbers and their residential addresses, which should all be within the constituency they are registered in and will vote in.
Why are there so many people born in 1900 on the roll and is it really possible?
There are, indeed, many people stated as being born in 1900. Admittedly, this seems odd and to sceptics it appears like a scam to rig elections. However, the year 1900 is a code for people whose birth records and details are unknown, but are still citizens. 1900 is the year stated on their National Registration Cards.
Are political parties entitled to get copies of the voters’ roll?
Yes, they are. Zec has an obligation to furnish political parties contesting in elections with a copy of the roll for the prescribed fee but only after an election has been called. The election date has been called for July 30 and, at the time of writing, Zec had still not finalised the roll.
Who else is entitled to the voters’ roll?
Accredited observers and nominated candidates when an election has been called. Polling stations also get copies for use on the on the voting day.
Are candidates entitled to a copy?
Yes. Nominated candidates are entitled to a free electronic copy of the voters’ roll. Nominated candidates get the voters’ roll for the constituency in which they have been nominated to contest. Candidates are endorsed as the officially nominated candidates by the Nomination Court. The endorsement permits them to contest in the upcoming election as candidates for parliamentary or senatorial or council seats. They do not pay for the electronic version of the roll but for printed copies if they require them.
When should Zec furnish the roll to candidates?
Within a reasonable time as prescribed. Complaints and charges of unfairness about being denied the voters’ roll were premature before June 14 when Nomination Court sat. It is only if Zec withholds the roll for a long time after June 14, 2018 that the allegations of unfairness and inefficiency will be justified.
What about the risk of tampering with the electronic version?
It is possible to tamper with it so safeguards to minimise this have been installed.
What the offences associated with the voters’ roll?
Altering it by changing any information contained in it with the intention of misrepresenting the roll. It is also prohibited to use it for commercial purposes. Such as selling it or using it for any other unauthorised purpose that has nothing to do with elections. Examples are harvesting people’s information then using it for other uses such as marketing or breaching their privacy for whatever purpose.
What is the penalty for offences?
It is a criminal offence to tamper with the voters’ roll in any manner and conviction carries a five-year sentence or a fine or both.
Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and a teacher. She writes in her personal capacity and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org