Farirai Machivenyika and Joseph Madzimure
More than 22 000 dead people have been removed from the voters rolls in the latest batch of such routine deletions, with a notification and appeal process in place in case a mistake was made, while the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is now fully funded to prepare for and run the 133 by-elections likely early next year.
ZEC is also now actively keeping the civil society organisations posted on what is happening and Friday’s meeting in Harare was to update them on the roadmap to the 2022 by-elections and the 2023 harmonised elections .
The National Assembly and local authority by-elections were necessitated by deaths, dismissals from political parties and recalls of MDC-T members from the National Assembly and local authorities.
Normally these would have been spread out, but all by-elections were halted on public health grounds in March last year when Covid-19 struck the country so they have been accumulating until public health authorities agreed they could now control the risk of large numbers of voters assembling.
President Mnangagwa, who by law sets the dates of all polls once informed of the vacancies, has suggested that the by-elections will be held during the first quarter of 2022.
As of October 22, Zimbabwe had a total of 133 elective by-elections at National Assembly and local authority levels.
The meeting with civil society follows the routine removal of 22 656 dead people from the voters’ roll as required by law.
Removal of the deceased from the roll is an on-going exercise with the names of the latest batch of those struck off have been published by ZEC chief elections officer Mr Utloile Silaigwana in the Government Gazette under General Notice 3379 of 2021 and in terms of the Electoral Act.
Mr Silaigwana said the names of those persons will be removed from the voters roll unless notice of appeal is given to ZEC.
While removing the names of those for whom death certificates have been sought and issued is relatively simple and automatic, there is a perennial problem when families do not seek a death certificate, common when the estate left is very small.
Speaking at the meeting with the organisations, ZEC chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba said the meeting was meant to discuss all electoral issues of concern.
“We discussed issues around polling, deferment of the mobile voter registration exercise and gazetting of the deceased as a precondition for voters’ roll cleaning,” said Justice Chigumba.
Justice Chigumba appealed to citizens who have lost their relatives to notify ZEC so that the names are removed from the voters roll.
“The issue of ghost voters has been misunderstood over the years. Monthly, the Registrar-General Office sends us a list of deceased voters and, members of the public must come forward and tell us about the death of their relatives. That is the only way we can remove deceased voters from voters roll,” she said.
She cleared the air on the postponement of the mobile voter registration exercise which was pencilled for December 6 saying the deferment was meant to allow all eligible stakeholders to acquire national identity cards, which are a requisite for voter registration. The mobile voter registration has been postponed to February 2022.
Justice Chigumba said: “The need to uphold inclusivity, which is one of the commission’s core values, has necessitated this postponement. Thus, this deferment is meant to allow all eligible stakeholders to acquire national identity cards, which are a requisite for voter registration.”
The period for the voter registration, she said, would have excluded some stakeholders without national identity cards but postponement gave the Civil Registry Department enough time to prepare for issuance of identity documents.
The voter registration was also intended to address under-registration in certain areas, afford those coming of age a chance to register as new voters where necessary, allow registrants to update their information and especially reflect the changes in their civic statuses, such as changes in names and places of residence.
Turning to the conduct of by-elections, she said the proposal to conduct by elections in the first quarter of next year was necessitated by the number of vacancies involved. ZEC needed ample time for preparations for so many by- elections.
“These preparations involve among other activities, effecting of transfers and removal of the deceased voters. This was going to be difficult if the mobile voter registration was not postponed,” she said.
The commission was currently seized with alpha list updating to factor in developments which had taken place in the polling areas since the last mapping in 2017. This basically requires ZEC to look at where voters now live to space out the polling stations and position them correctly so the number voting at each station is as close as p
Attention is being given to areas that have seen rapid land use changes and new residential developments, which affect voter population dynamics,” Justice Chigumba said. The commission wants to assign each voter to their nearest polling station,
Another area of focus was composite polling stations that had many streams of voters. At the last general election voters were split by their surname. This time addresses will be used and so ensure that everyone in the same hosuehold goes to the same polling station, said Justice Chigumba.
Election Resource Centre director Ms Babra Dube thanked the commission for coming up with the meetings and briefings. “These sessions are really going to help us to understand ZEC’s preparedness both for the voter registration blitz as well as the by-elections and the 2023 harmonised elections,” said Ms Dube.
Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe national Coordinator Ms Sally Ncube said the exercise was very informative. “We are hopeful that ZEC will be supported with adequate PPEs and adequate materials so that the process will be responsive to the requirements of Covid-19 control,” said Ms Ncube.
Ambassador 263 national coordinator Mr Lloyd Mugwenjedzi said they were happy with ZEC’s state of preparedness.