HARARE - Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has been called to adopt Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) as a method of voter registration and compilation of the voters roll in Zimbabwe ahead of the 2018 elections.
BVR is a technology that captures unique physical features such as finger-prints and facial scans for the purposes of identification.
Unlike other options where the unique point of identification is the ID number and the photographic image verifiable by the naked eye, BVR uses a more sophisticated and reliable system where physical features unique to each individual are used for purposes of identification.
Rindai Chipfunde Vava, Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) National Director said based on ZESN’s survey of past voter registration exercise and assessments of the quality of the voters’ roll, it is evident that the current voter registration system and the voters’ roll are grossly unreliable and not fit for purpose and in need of drastic improvement.
“The current method of registration is manual and paper-based, hence discredited. It permits too many loopholes including duplicate and multiple registrations.
“Verifying of the facial identity of the holder of an ID card is by the naked eye and this is an unreliable method which allows double-voting. Given that this system has been severely criticised, it would be undesirable for ZEC to continue with it,” said Vava.
She said the major problem is that the voter registration system and the voters’ roll are regarded by most stakeholders as untrustworthy, inefficient and lacking credibility.
“A survey of stakeholder concerns shows that the voters’ roll has duplicate or multiple registrations, ineligible voters such as deceased or absent persons and that it is also vulnerable to irregular changes and distortions.
“This credibility deficit has a negative effect on the entire election process, leading to endless electoral disputes.”
Reporting on the 2013 elections, the AU and SADC Observer Missions expressed concerns over the voters’ roll and the voter registration system and recommended that the shortcomings be addressed in future elections. Opposition parties and civil society have also raised concerns and criticised the voter registration system and the voters’ roll.
Vava said BVR is the most preferable system to improve voter registration and the quality of the voters roll.
“BVR is not without its weaknesses, but it presents a better opportunity to build a new and credible voters’ roll, particularly if measures are taken in advance to mitigate the risks.
“Studies show that while the initial investment costs are high, it is cost-effective in the long run. There are risks, but they can be mitigated with careful planning.”
Vava added that progressive electoral systems across the continent are moving towards adoption of the BVR system for voter registration and compilation of the voters’ roll.
“The trend across the continent is that countries are adopting this technology which is an important tool that supports the principles of voter registration as it provides for the integrity, transparency, accuracy, comprehensiveness, access and security of data.”
She said in light of the above, ZESN urges ZEC to take advantage of its new powers to adopt the BVR system for the registration of voters and compilation of the voters’ roll.
“Since time is of the essence, ZEC must commence the new registration system without delay, particularly as the data will help with delimitation of constituencies for the 2018 elections and process should be open to monitoring by civil society and key stakeholders such as political parties and media.
“The process should be done according to international and regional best practices such as transparency, inclusivity, comprehensiveness, non-discriminatory, currency amongst others.
“For practical reasons, ZEC should consider starting with a pilot project to test the BVR system, possibly in by-elections before the full roll-out in a main election in 2018.
“ZEC and stakeholders must take part in a consultative process to ensure the best system is implemented taking into account the local conditions.”
Vava said if BVR is implemented ZEC and stakeholders, including civil society should play a role in promoting and educating members of the public on the changes to the registration system and their implications.
“ZEC must ensure that the electoral code of conduct is enforced together with provisions of part XVIIIB of the Electoral Act which outline measurers that need to be taken to curb politically motivated violence and intimidation. This will support the creation of an enabling environment for the enjoyment of civil and political rights of both electoral contestants and their supporters.”
Voter registration and the compilation of the voters roll are two of the most critical processes in the electoral process. Apart from fulfilling constitutional rights, voter registration determines the eligibility of a person to vote or contest in elections. It is therefore directly relevant to the realisation of the constitutional principle of universal adult suffrage and the right to vote.
A free and fair election is one in which every person who is eligible to vote is registered or is able to register in order to exercise this fundamental right. Consequently, it is important to have a system of voter registration and a voters’ roll that is fair, efficient, transparent, inclusive and overall, credible.
However, the lack of an efficient, trusted and credible voter registration system has compromised the credibility of the voters’ roll which has in turn affected the legitimacy of past elections.
Vava added that an opportunity to reform the system is presented by the new Constitution which confers authority over voter registration and the voters roll on ZEC. These functions were previously performed by the Registrar-General.
“Under the RG, both voter registration and the voters’ roll came under severe criticism and this criticism was echoed by regional and continental observer missions.
“With ZEC now in charge, its credibility depends on its ability to transform the voter registration system and improve the quality of the voters’ roll. Stakeholders must trust the system and a fundamental change in the registration process will be an important step in this direction.”