Source: ID voter system, rigging and the law – NewsDay Zimbabwe April 18, 2017
There are growing fears and, apparently, a lot of apprehension as the nation edges towards the 2018 presidential election. And the year 2018, seen by many as probably the last opportunity left to save the country from ultimate ruin and, more importantly, bring back decency and pride to the vanquished people of Zimbabwe, is quite crucial.
guest column: LEARNMORE ZUZE
The voters’ roll, used for decades in elections, has always been associated with all manner of fraud and chicanery that calls to replace it with the identity documentation system (IDs) are increasing. No election, since 2000, has steered clear of strong rigging claims against the ultimate presidential winner. It has not always been the opposition citing rigging against Zanu PF, but some will remember how Zanu PF itself cried foul and alleged rigging in 2008 when the opposition strode to a stunning victory. But, perhaps of all elections and rigging contentions, none takes the cake like the 2013 election. The victory came so fast and left everyone with a dropped jaw. Despite all the hype of the trail of destruction ascribed to Zanu PF, the old party romped to an earth-shattering victory. It was as if lightning had struck on a clear sky day. No one had the slightest idea what had happened. There were immediate rigging claims. Former legislator, Tendai Biti, was among the first of the opposition officials to assert “certain” rigging. Many were to follow stating that the election in which President Robert Mugabe won the vote against MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai was a sham. A lot of controversy still surrounds the 2013 election to date, with Tsvangirai still to accept the outcome.
Now, a lot is at stake as we approach 2018. A number of theories have been thrown forward to ensure that rigging is kept at bay and chief among the suggested remedies is the “impregnable” ID voting system seen as a panacea to the voting fraud. Under this system, it is sought that persons should be able to vote from anywhere in the country so long they can provide their national identity documentation (ID card). This idea sounds impervious to election fraud, but on closer analysis, use of the ID card system on election day could have the opposite effect. It makes it readily easier for the rigging machinery. True indeed, if used in good faith, the ID system would be most ideal, as it ensures everyone gets to vote and does not disenfranchise voters living far away from their constituencies. It would preferably lead to the desired end, where every person, assuming they have one identity document, only gets to vote once.
However, as aforementioned, the ID voter system may easily prove to be a conduit for the feared rigging machinery. The abandonment of the voters’ roll in favour of the ID cards for verification naturally presents serious challenges. To begin with, from a purely legal standpoint, it is not possible to abandon the voters’ roll at present; section 239(d) of the Constitution gives the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission the mandate to compile the voters’ roll. Among its key functions, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is tasked with compiling the voters’ roll and registers. It is also mandated with ensuring the proper custody and maintenance of the registers. The implication of this constitutional provision is that, in order to hold elections without a voters’ roll, a constitutional amendment becomes necessary before next year’s elections. The country will have to effect yet another amendment to a Constitution barely four years old.
Also the other implication is that the independence of the commission (Zec) would be compromised since it is not the custodian of the civil registry. In other terms, use of the ID as a verification tool would all, but make the bulk of the commission’s work of little or no effect. The major 12 functions of the commission are of no practical value, as they are centred on the voters’ roll.
The most concerning challenge likely to hit the ID voter system, apart from the law, is that there is a significant number of Zimbabweans that have neither birth certificates nor identification cards. This simply translates to lost votes. As it stands, a considerable number of people face serious difficulties in obtaining the identity documents, with some being labelled alien and naturally, they will be disenfranchised in their thousands.
Further, the office of the Registrar-General tasked with issuing these cards has always been viewed as politically partisan and manipulative. The Registrar-General has been at the centre of controversy in the handling of elections. Given that his office has the task of issuing out these ID cards, the system becomes heavily compromised. The essence of voting is well understood by that voting should be a private affair, hence, talk of the secret ballot. However, where people have to have their ID card numbers recorded, it acts against the spirit and letter of the secret ballot concept. The rural folk, especially, may easily be intimidated into believing that their vote would be known under the ID card system.
A whole host of accompanying problems also follow in that the number of ballot papers to be printed becomes a subject of debate. It breeds confusion; just how many ballot papers should be printed under this system? Under Zimbabwean law, only a person who is registered is allowed to vote. While those who argue in favour of the ID voter system insist that ballot papers equivalent to the population in the country should be printed, the real trouble is that the extra ballot papers could actually be misused for ballot fraud. In fact, that would provide for electoral fraud. Due care has to be exercised to ensure the printed papers average well in comparison with the voting population. Even more, it becomes very difficult to properly allocate polling stations around the country. How can polling stations be allocated when no one knows the number of people likely to vote at a particular polling station? The auditing of the whole electoral process becomes difficult if ID cards were sorely used for verification.
It must be acknowledged that there will never be a watertight electoral administrative system, but irregularities can be minimised. The point is to adopt an electoral system that does not compromise the process. In my view, the biometric system may have its own troubles, but far from the ID voter system, it would minimise a lot of problems stemming from the ID system. It definitely protects against the rampant double registration and glaring inaccuracies typical of the previous system.
Learnmore Zuze is a law officer and writes in his own capacity. E-mail: email@example.com