bloated roll

Zimbabwe: Errors in voters’ roll could derail the election

By The Africa Report

Posted on March 20, 2023 14:43

 © The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced they have educators sharing information on the mobile voter registration exercise (Photo: @ZECzim)
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced they have educators sharing information on the mobile voter registration exercise (Photo: @ZECzim)

Zimbabwe will hold harmonised elections in four months even though the country’s electoral commission (ZEC) has not released an electronic voters’ roll for scrutiny despite several court challenges.

The ZEC’s actions are contrary to the country’s constitution in Section 21 (1), which stipulates that ‘every voters’ roll and every consolidated roll shall be a public document and open to inspection by the public, free of charge, during office hours at the office of the commission or the registration office where it is kept’.

The issue has become a bone of contention ahead of the polls, amid suspicion that this could be a rigging ploy to favour President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF party.Electoral watchdogs and opposition political parties suspect that the document could be manipulated even more than it already has been, as preliminary analysis showed it contains thousands of ghost voters and other numerous mistakes that could disenfranchise the electorate.

Very costly document

Since 2022, electoral stakeholders like the Elections Resource Centre (ERC) and Project Vote 263 have taken the ZEC to court demanding that an electronic voters’ roll be released for analysis ahead of this year’s polls, without success.

In January 2023, an independent electoral watchdog, Project Vote 263, took the ZEC to Zimbabwe’s High Court demanding an analysable copy.

A hard copy of the voters’ roll is voluminous and has over 185,000 pages and millions of names.

ZEC chief executive officer Utloile Silaigwana says the country’s constitution does not give rise to absolute rights and immutable obligations expressed by electoral stakeholders in their demands for an electronic version.  He says if availed, the roll may be tampered with.

This is despite section 21 (7) (i) of the constitution, which states that the format of the electronic voters roll shall be such that it allows its contents to be searched and analysed provided that it is formatted to prevent it from being altered or tampered with.

In November 2022, the ERC took the electoral commission to court demanding the electoral voters’ roll, but was charged $187,000 to access it.

The law states that an electronic copy of the voters’ roll for any individual or organisation is $200. However, the price for a hard copy of the voters’ roll is $1 per page, which would total $187,000, after a 2022 amendment to voter registration regulations.

Candidates need to view a voters’ roll to create a strategy for their campaigns, ERC programs manager Solomon Bobosibunu tells The Africa Report.

“They must know where the registered voters are situated. A voters’ roll explains whether registered voters are young people or the elderly. It assists the contestants to develop appropriate messages for their campaigns, tailor-making the messages for the targeted people and knowing where they are concentrated.”

Courts favour ZEC

Opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) legislator Allan Markham took the ZEC before the high court in October 2022 demanding release of the electronic copy of the voters’ roll. However, on 7 March, High Court Justice Never Katiyo said he saw no merit in Markham’s case and dismissed it.

Katiyo said the ZEC has the right to safeguard the voters’ roll against being tampered with.

The alleged fear of alteration or tampering of an electronic roll given to me is to me irrational, considering ZEC retains the original ‘master’ copy

Markham has now challenged the High Court ruling at the Supreme Court, arguing that “the alleged fear of alteration or tampering of an electronic roll given to me is to me irrational, considering the ZEC retains the original ‘master’ copy of the roll in their system and physical form”.

Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court is yet to hear the matter.

Court cases on the voters’ roll are not new. In 2002, 2008, 2013 and 2018 elections, ZEC was taken to court over its refusal to release the document.  Calls by international election observers for the ZEC to hand over the document have fallen on deaf ears.

Ghost voters

Copies of the 2022 voters’ roll released by the ZEC ahead of the March by-elections were scrutinised by data analysts at transparency watchdog Team Pachedu who exposed its opaqueness and errors.

Team Pachedu tells The Africa Report that previous rolls used in the 2002, 2005, 2008, 2013, 2018 elections were also included in their analysis.

“The use of these has enabled us to track each voter. The major finding was in age variations of some voters as well as mass movements of voters to other locations when physical addresses stayed the same,” said the group, whose members have not revealed their identities due to volatility of the elections and security reasons.

The voters’ roll was not released to the watchdog, but the group managed to access it as the ZEC website was not secure. ZEC claimed that the website had been tampered with and threatened to take them to court.

“This is the voters roll, which they [ZEC] later denied as having come from them even though there is documentation of it coming from ZEC,” says Team Pachedu.

Although ZEC said it disowned its own voters’ roll after massive irregularities were exposed, it is not working on a new voters’ roll – this is the same one that will be used for elections this year.

Irregularities included giving an older person a voter’s card for someone much younger. One example includes an ID number given to a 60-year-old person in 2008 on the voters’ roll, while the same number appeared again on the 2022 voters’ roll, but this time the person was aged 38, signifying this was fake.

Some ghost voters had fake identity cards, while dead or old people were given young identity cards. The fake identity cards started with numbers 00, which is not an issuing district in Zimbabwe.

The voters’ roll contains thousands of duplicate voters, as adding a zero to their identity card numbers has been carried out since 2008.

Team Pachedu also found that the ZEC had created more than 16,000 double voters in Gokwe district. Thousands of people who had the same identity card numbers were registered to vote.

The ‘mistakes’ have been a common phenomenon in all Zimbabwe’s elections. In 2013, over one million ghost voters were found in the roll.

ZEC says that Team Pachedu’s exposés of voters’ roll discrepancies ahead of polls is evidence that the voters’ roll has been tampered with, hence the need to keep it under wraps until the right time.

Delimitation report shambolic

The 2023 delimitation report, which maps electoral boundaries, is another bone of contention as it contains obvious mistakes.

In its abridged analysis of the delimitation report, Team Pachedu says some wards are missing, while thousands of voters have been illegally moved to wrong wards.

“We also located the final delimitation coordinates in neighbouring countries from as far as Chitambala in Zambia to South Africa, and even Swaziland.  We have found hundreds of Antarctica coordinates in the report claiming they are from Zimbabwe, yet they are not,” Team Pachedu says.

At the moment, the conduct of [the] ZEC is ultra vires what ACDEG seeks to promote

ZEC deputy chairperson Rodney Simukai Kiwa told the media last week during a discussion on elections that the commission is transparent.

“We don’t do delimitation with individuals in mind. We follow the principles. We managed to respond to all the questions that were raised in parliament. We made changes where the law allowed us to make the changes. All the mistakes were corrected and I can’t specifically state which one,” Kiwa said.

Elections lack democracy

All the glaring anomalies and refusal to avail an electronic voters’ roll to stakeholders raises fears of electoral manipulation ahead of the polls, Zimbabwe Election Advocacy Trust Executive Director Ignatious Sadziwa tells The Africa Report.

“Zimbabwe is signatory to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance [ACDEG], which encourages member states to promote best practices in the management of elections for purposes of political stability and good governance,” says Sadziwa.

He says the forthcoming elections must be postponed until meaningful electoral reforms are put in place.

“At the moment, the conduct of ZEC is ultra vires what ACDEG seeks to promote,” he adds, referring to the legal term of an act, which requires legal authority, but is done without it.

Opposition MDC-T leader Douglas Mwonzora also filed a constitutional court challenge on 14 March seeking to postpone the elections, citing delimitation anomalies.

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