'Scrap proof of residence obligation in Electoral Act'

HARARE - Voter registration laws requiring that citizens possess proof of residence must be repealed ahead of the 2018 polls as they unnecessarily exclude youths from voting, a new pressure group has said.

Youth Advocacy for Voter Enlightenment and Progressive Orientation (Yavepo) has said the Electoral Act is a big impediment to participation of youths in elections.

To register, a citizen must prove their residency, identity and their status as a citizen before they can vote.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has made the proof of residence requirement the near exclusive way of proving voter eligibility and has justified these laws on claims of needing to protect the electoral process from the threat of fraud.

“According to Section 24 of the Electoral Act, any voter registration officer can demand proof of residence from any claimant who desires to be registered as a voter,” Yavepo director and former student leader Zachariah Mushawatu said.

“Youths are jobless and they do not own houses courtesy of an economy that is chronically unstable, perennially faltering and teetering on the precipice of total collapse.

“Because they do not own houses, youths do not pay rates that are used as proof of residence when one registers to vote.

“Given this background, demanding proof of residence from  youths is as absurd as demanding to withdraw bond notes from a bank in South Africa.”

Zec is poised to start new voter registration in March to produce a new biometric voters’ roll for the 2018 general elections.

There are mounting calls that citizens who cannot produce proof of residence must use an affidavit at the registration centre with a standby commissioner of oath.

The government relaxed stringent rules for voter registration in the 2013 general elections and made it permissible for citizens with no proof of residence to use affidavits to register as voters.

However, Mushawatu blasted the government for making temporary measures to address a “protracted problem.”  “Yes, registration regulations have been relaxed in the past,” Mushawatu said.

“But as youths, we don’t want temporary relaxation of registration regulations, we want a permanent amendment of the Electoral Act in order to make it permissible for affidavits to be used in place of proof of residence where necessary.

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