Chaotic special voting worrying ahead of elections

Harare, 15 July, 2013 — The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) is observing the special voting process for uniformed forces and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) officials in all parts of the country. During the two days of the special voting, ZESN observers deployed at all special voting polling centres noted that the process was marred by serious logistical challenges countrywide.

ZESN notes that the process continues to be disorganised an indication that ZEC was unprepared to conduct the special voting process.

On Sunday 14 July 2013, ZESN observers reported challenges that included the late opening of polling stations, shortage of sensitive voting materials such as indelible ink, ZEC stamps, approved voters’ lists, ballot papers and ballot boxes. In addition, on the first day of voting and in most areas in the country voting began as late as 1600hrs instead of the stipulated time of 0700hrs by ZEC and continued late into the night and early hours of morning. However, observers reported that although voting continued late into the night many people failed to vote because their envelopes had not arrived at the polling station.

In Masvingo voting only started today but with several reports of outstanding deliveries of special voting envelopes. In other districts, ZESN observers at Seke Kunaka Clinic in Mashonaland East province, have reported that voting had not even commenced by lunchtime. Similar reports were received from Macheke in Mashonaland East province, Zvemukonde in Midlands province, Mamina Primary School in Mashonaland West province.

In Beitbridge, Matebeleland South by 1000hrs, 37 voters had been turned away because their names were not on the voters’ roll. This was also prevalent in other provinces.

ZESN observers also reported that, voting is continuing but at a very slow pace. At Lupane Primary School in Matabeleland North voters who are on the voters’ roll could not cast their ballots because their special vote envelopes had not yet arrived by lunchtime today. The polling station was expecting 119 special vote envelopes and had only received 13 envelopes. At Chinotimba Hall in Hwange in Matabeleland North province, by 0700hrs only 63 special vote envelopes were available out of the 544 expected special vote envelopes.

ZESN noted inconsistencies with the voters’ roll availability with some polling stations having informal handwritten lists such as at Mt Pleasant Hall and Town House in Harare. In addition we have also received with concern reports that some senior police officers were bringing their own lists for use at some polling stations. This is in contrary to the provisions of Section 81D (2) (c) of the Electoral Act which stipulates that each polling station should have an approved list coming from the Chief Elections Officer. In addition the law also requires the Chief Elections Officer to keep a consolidated list of all Special Voters which is open to the public for inspection at any time before the announcement of the final results. We therefore urge ZEC to avail this list for public scrutiny.

Given the logistical flaws, ZESN is extremely concerned that thousands of uniformed forces might have been disenfranchised as the law requires all approved special vote applicants to be crossed out from the main voters’ roll before the final election date.

It is only prudent that ZEC considers extending the special voting to ensure that all those issued with permission to cast special votes are given the opportunity to do so.

ZESN’s observations thus far, reveal an urgent need for ZEC to immediately put in place proper logistical provisions that ensure the smooth running of the impending harmonised elections and a firm assurance to the public.

The issue of the voters’ roll remains a contentious issue and we reiterate the need for ZEC to ensure that an updated voters’ roll is easily accessible to the public for inspection in in both hard copy and web-based electronic format.

ZESN is seriously concerned that the chaos that prevailed during the special voting process serves as a telling and worrying indicator that could repeat itself on 31 July. We are concerned that with only 16 days to the harmonised elections, this shoddy state of affairs could impact on ZEC’s preparedness to fully manage the election process on 31 July 2013. We urge that adequate resources are availed to ZEC to ensure that the organisation carries out its constitutionally mandated duties.

Prior to special voting ZESN noted several incidents of intimidation and arrests of human rights campaigners on allegations of breaching the Electoral Act contrary to the promotion of a free environment in which civil society can operate unrestricted. Such practices are inconsistent with fundamental rights and freedoms, and with democratic standards of civic education that allows people to make informed choices during election time.

ZESN remains committed to promoting a free and fair election where each eligible voter has an opportunity to exercise their right to vote. //Ends

Design and development supported by HURIDOCS.