THE Election Resource Centre (ERC) has given Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) a seven-day ultimatum to furnish it with an electronic copy of the national voters’ roll, which the elections management body will use during the 2023 general elections.
ERC was left peeved after ZEC refused to give it an electronic copy of the national voters’ roll and demanded that the elections watchdog pay US$187 238 as the cost of providing the electoral register, citing provisions of Statutory Instrument 145 of 2022 Electoral (Voter Registration) (Amendment) Regulations, 2022 (No.1), which imposes US$1 per page of the roll as the unit price.
The elections watchdog had written to ZEC soon after the closure of the inspection of the voters’ roll for the delimitation process in July requesting to be furnished with an electronic copy of the national voters’ roll.
But in response to the ERC’s request, ZEC on 20 October 2022 acceded to the elections watchdog’s request but only undertook to provide it with the national voters’ roll in hard copy format and provided a quotation of US$187 238 for its acquisition.
This compelled ERC to engage Dr Tarisai Mutangi of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who on 7 November 2022 wrote a letter to ZEC protesting that such a cost is shockingly high and more than the “reasonable costs” of providing the national voters’ roll and is contrary to provisions of section 21 of the Electoral Act.
Dr Mutangi further argued that the exorbitant cost of the national voters’ roll, borders on unconstitutionality as it has a chilling effect on curtailing enjoyment of political rights provided in section 67 of the Constitution and makes these fundamental rights illusory as they are now dependent on material comfort.
On the contrary, Dr Mutangi noted that an electronic copy of the national voters’ roll only costs US$200.
ZEC also declined to provide ERC with an electronic copy of the national voters’ roll on the basis that the elections management body is in the process of enhancing the security of the electronic voters’ roll and did not provide an indication as to when its process will be finalised.
The human rights lawyer insisted that once the national voters’ roll is available in hard copy so should be the electronic one as both are provided for in a unitary provision, namely, section 21(4) of the Electoral Act.
Dr Mutangi protested against ZEC’s justification for withholding the electronic voters’ roll saying it borders on irrationality and thus is potentially unconstitutional in view of the provisions of section 68 of the Constitution.
He stated that ERC is highly concerned about the escalating cost of political participation in Zimbabwe as the process of accessing information held by an elections management body should be simple, quick and affordable. Therefore, Dr Mutangi said, ZEC’s offer to
provide the elections watchdog with a hard copy of the national voters’ roll instead of the requested electronic version, which would make electoral processes more transparent, is inconsistent with the principles stated above.
Dr Mutangi said ERC is willing to give dialogue a chance in resolving the impasse between itself and ZEC, which should lead to finding solutions that permanently resolve problems related to the provision of the voters’ roll as the nation prepares for the 2023 general elections and would only resort to instituting litigation processes as a last resort.
Dr Mutangi asked ZEC to respond to ERC’s letter within seven days.