The courts can’t hear an urgent case because elections are imminent

Source: The courts can’t hear an urgent case because elections are imminent

“The courts can’t hear an urgent case because elections are imminent … wait, the imminence of the elections is why the case should be heard with urgency. Our courts will never recover from this.” – Nqaba Matshazi

On a roll

After months of trying to get the voters roll (which is meant to be a public document, but which ZEC likes to keep under lock and key) ZEC finally purportedly gave CCC the document in July. But the document handed over to the opposition party turned out to be incomplete and not even the final voters roll. To make matters worse, ZEC’s own list of polling stations doesn’t match the polling stations on the voters roll they claim is the document we should all be relying on. And because the voters roll is polling station based (think name, constituency, polling station), a voters roll that doesn’t match the polling stations is really not a voters roll at all.

So, on 11 August 2023, the CCC brought an urgent court application seeking the release of the final voters roll and polling station list.

The CCC’s application asked the court to take note of these discrepancies in the voters roll provided by ZEC to the party:

  • There are 2,150 polling stations in the voters roll ZEC provided which don’t match polling stations on ZEC’s list of polling stations. That affects about 1.8 million people.
  • Whole wards (such as Pfura Ward 6 in Mt Darwin) appear in one constituency in the voters roll and in a different constituency on ZEC’s list of polling stations.
  • Since handing over what they claimed was the voters roll to the CCC, ZEC has increased the number of polling stations by 869.

CCC also wants ZEC’s list of polling stations to include some important information that ZEC provided in 2018, but conveniently decided to leave out this time around. In particular, CCC wants ZEC to publish:

  • Polling station codes which provide a unique identifier for polling stations, which is kinda helpful considering 678 polling stations share a name with at least one other polling station.
  • The number of voters registered at each polling station. This is important to be able to check that the total number of voters at polling stations matches the number of registered voters on the voters roll. Stray voters present a risk for rigging.

After the case was filed with the request that it be heard on an urgent basis, it was clear that the judge and the people who are going to the polls next week, are not on the same page about the definition of the word urgent. The conversation (which happened in a series of court orders and applications) went something like this:

Lawyers: “Obvs it’s urgent! The election is just around the corner and we still don’t have the voters roll.”

Justice Katiyo: “I order that it is not urgent. Try again later.”

Lawyers: “Wait, what? Are we living in the same universe? Let’s just meet up and talk this one through…”

Justice Katiyo: “Okay, fine, persuade me… but first why don’t you and ZEC see if you can just reach an agreement between you so you don’t need to bother me with your squabbles.”

ZEC: “Sounds like a plan, but let’s do it our way. We’ll let you know if you can have the voters roll by end of day Wednesday, and if we decide you can’t, then we can all go back to court on Thursday.”

Wednesday evening:

The lawyers are back in court today.

Pressing print

On 16 August 2023, CCC brought another urgent court application, this time demanding that ZEC come clean about the printing of ballots, which was done in secret and in violation of the law. Legally, ZEC is required to inform all political parties, observers, and candidates contesting in an election where, and by whom, the ballot papers are being printed. The total number of ballots printed and distributed to polling stations is also supposed to be disclosed.

Instead, ZEC did their own thing. On 15 August 2023, it emerged that postal ballot voting was taking place in police stations across the country. Yesterday, the CCC rushed to court to demand that ZEC disclose what it has been up to with printing of ballot papers and to disclose the serial numbers of the ballots printed so that they can be verified. The outcome? You guessed it: TBD.