October Election 2018 Update
By Anna Pfende
As 2018 is fast approaching, preparations for the 2017 elections are underway in Zimbabwe as the Zimbabwe Electro Commission (ZEC) has started the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) process which will be running for a period of four months, starting 14 September 2017 – 15 January 2018. Once the process is complete, President Mugabe will announce the date for the national elections.
Biometrics refers to human physical and behavioral characteristics such as fingerprints, the iris, signature, face etc. These can be used to uniquely identify an individual. This concept is definitely not new! Zimbabwe has been collecting people’s biometrics for decades; everyone has to have a picture taken and fingerprints captured to obtain a national identity (ID) or passport. This background and reference is important because BVR is just similar to this process. In BVR, a voter’s details (name date of birth, address etc) are digitally captured and stored alongside their biometric features (face and fingerprints) on a computer– that’s it. Nothing more nothing less! The advantage of this system is that these biometric features can be used to uniquely identify an individual in a computerised way and additionally , there is inbuilt software to identify and eliminate duplicate voters/registrants; leading to a clean voters roll.
The deployment of personnel for the purpose of collecting BVR information is not different to that done in order to register people in the “old way”. Personnel are trained and equipped with mobile voter registration kits. These are portable devices designed to create electoral rolls; equipment that is reusable, extensible and resistant to adverse conditions. These devices are self-contained, autonomous units supported by long-life batteries and can be used in remote areas for registration, even within homesteads. In the end, what is compiled is a normal database or electoral register which includes biometrics information.
The second part of the process is voter verification or authentication which happens on voting day. This is whereby a person appears on voting day, presents an ID or provides a name. The person’s biometrics face and/or fingerprints are then captured and compared to those in the computer database (biometric voters’ register). Again mobile biometric kits/stations are available to achieve this, enabling penetration of remote areas. If there is a match, the person is verified, gets a ballot paper and continues to vote (manually) in the normal way! The person’s details are then digitally marked as having voted and cannot be used for repeat voting (no need for ink). This is NOT electronic or biometric voting, but manual voting as we are used to!
At first ZEC had indicated that biometric verification would not be done (thus just creating Biometric Voter Register – or simply an electoral register which contains a person’s face and fingerprints which would not improve the voting process itself but provide a clean and credible voters’ roll). However Vice President Mnangagwa in response to a question by MP Chamisa in parliament regarding use of biometrics on voting day had this to say; “Hon. Chamisa has forgotten that we agreed that we need BVR. We never said it would not go full throttle. We agreed that the biometric system would be used in coming up with a Voters Roll up until the actual voting.” So, it is expected that biometric verification will be used on voting day.
Having said all that, BVR in itself does not guarantee successful, fair or credible elections. Its effectiveness can only be recognised if applied in tandem with the political-will and sincerity of authorities in charge, who are tasked with guaranteeing fairness and ensuring inclusion of all citizens. Biometric technology cannot solve problems rooted in issues such as mistrust among stakeholders or lack of political freedoms. Elections, at the end of the day, are a political process
The ZSE has split the BRV process into four phases as follows:
Phase 1: 10 to 25 October
Phase 2: 29 October to 13 November
Phase 3: 16 November to 1 December
Phase 4: 4 to 19 December
The ZSE invited human rights organisations like Heal Zimbabwe (HZ) and Zimbabwe Electrical Support Network (ZESN) to observe the registration process and they have reported the following as phase one has come to end:
There were reports of intimidation, especially in rural areas, whereby registrants were being misinformed about the BVR and its purpose. Potential registrants were being informed that having registered using the system it is possible to know who they will vote for in the 2018 elections. These cases were reported in Mudzi North Ward 1, Murewa North Ward 4 and Muzarabani Ward 3 among other areas. According to ZESN, they received reports of registrants being forced to submit their names and details such as serial numbers of voter registration slips to Ward chairpersons and other community leaders as a way of intimidating them into believing that their voting choices will be traceable in the 2018 election. On this background, ZESN has urges ZEC to conduct comprehensive voter education and information to ensure that citizens are well informed about the BVR process to demystify some of these shenanigans by politicians.
In Matebeleland provinces and other remote areas, it has been reported that people failed to register in areas because they did not have birth certificates and national IDs. ZESN urges the government to consider wavering the fees for obtaining birth certificates in order to facilitate easy acquisition of National IDs by potential registrants especially in remote areas. ZESN observed that some citizens intending to register were turned away on the basis of presenting defaced identity documents, for being ‘Aliens’, failure to produce proof of residence and producing wrong form of identification such as drivers’ licenses. The government must adequately publicise the procedures for regularizing the citizenship status of citizens classified as ‘Aliens’ to enable them to register to vote.
The ZEC Commissioners of Oaths are not always available at registration centres resulting in citizens requiring this service either returning home without registering or being charged for the commissioning of their affidavits. Instances of challenges with proof of residence were reported in Nyanga North Ward 5 Kambarami village, the Village Head is reported to be demanding that villagers who require proof of residence pay $5.
According to statistics released by the ZEC, as of 19 October 2017, a total of 814,181 people had registered at 1890 registration centres under Phase One. ZESN has also observed that significantly high numbers have been recorded in areas like Harare and Midlands while areas like Matebeleland provinces have experienced very low turnout. ZESN observed that at Sinansengwe Business centre in Binga North ward 4 not a single person presented themselves at the registration centre on 19 October 2017. Low turnout figures were also recorded in Mashonaland East at Shamba Dip tank in Maramba Pfungwe Ward 6, only two people registered on 18 October, while at Kanzire Primary School in the same ward, only one person registered. Yesterday, at Maramba Primary school, 60 people; males 28 males and 32 females registered. Some centres that recorded high turnout yesterday are as follows: Seke Primary School in Chitungwiza South Ward 18, 252 (190 were female and 62 male), at Remembrance Hall in Mbare, 217 registered (167 female and 50 male). In Midlands at Chinyenyetu Primary School GokweNembudziya, 164 people were registered on 18 and 19 October 2017.
ZESN also received some reports of kits malfunction at some of the centres. On 19 October at Sango centre in Zengeza West Ward 12, the BVR kit number 0619 malfunctioned and despite efforts by the technicians to fix the challenge was said to be requiring a new power box. In Chipinge South Ward 28 at Chusuma Primary school, the BVR kit broke down and had to be taken for repairs, it stopped the registration process for the rest of the day and potential registrants eventually gave up and went back home after waiting for two or more hours. Another incident of kit malfunction was reported at Musikawamatanda in Ward 4 Chiredzi West on 18 October 2017. ZESN urges the ZEC to publicize procedures outlining how incidents such as kit failure and malfunctions are to be dealt with including protocols for data backup for malfunctioning kits.
The Member of Parliament for Mudzi South has challenged ZEC to include his constituency on the BVR database having noted that it was missing under all the four phases. The electoral Commission is reported to be in the process of rectifying the anomaly that was highlighted by the MP.
As there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in educating people of the BVR, members of MDC High Wycombe – Slough raised £280 which will go towards voter education in Hurungwe constituency where one of our members, Model Pamire will be contesting in the next general elections for the seat of Member of Parliament. Many thanks to the following who contributed to wards this: Deborah Harry, Constance Munyimani, Owen Muganda, Anna Mwanza, Shylet Manyange, Virginia Mutyambizi, Eunice, Jackie, Erica, Petros, Mandifusa Mushambadope, Irene Manhunzi, Jestina , Anna Pfende, Grace Nyaumwe, Winnie Festo, Manya Mary Ndoro, Christopher Nyamukuvhengu, Spiwe Dube, Stewart Nyandoro, Rose Mufurusa, Gift Meda and Tonderai Samanyanga
The struggle continues guys and let’s continues to encourage our families and friend back home and those that can go home to register for the elections. Every vote makes a difference. Together we can make a difference.
Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network