Zec independence important

HARARE - Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) independence is the top most important ingredient of free and fair elections.

All other technologies and mechanisms are useless if Zec is not an independent electoral body.  All political parties, Zanu PF included should aim to divorce themselves from the operations of Zec and allow the esteemed body to execute its constitutional mandate.

Next to independence is a solid budget for Zec to implement all its processes and procedures.

Zec needs to double the polling stations from 2013 to enable a free and fair election, where nobody is disenfranchised because of lack of access to a polling station.

With the above conditions met, it does not really matter what method Zec employs to register the voters or to actually conduct the voting process. In the imperfect world that we find ourselves in, I will however submit that the use of ICT is a good 21st century way of ensuring a robust voter's roll that will be a click away.

Zimbabwe is proposing the implementation of a Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system for 2018. A very good idea but only if it can realize the intended benefits.

Biometrics systems work by using a combination of a person's body features for recognition by recording those features in a repository or database. The body features will be linked to the person's personal information. So for example, a finger print or a combination of a finger print and iris can be used to identify a person once those features are loaded and linked to the person's personal information.

So BVR is simply updating one's personal information in the voter's register and adding a fingerprint and/or iris (eye-scan) to the profile. This means when one comes back to vote, the system can identify you by your ID, or Fingerprint or Eye-scan.

Therein lies the challenge. The verification process at polling stations assumes that each polling station will have uninterrupted connectivity to the central repository or database in order to connect and verify every voter or that each polling station will have an instance (duplicate) of the database in order to access the finger print images that will be used to compare with a voter's finger or eye-scan.

If the system needs real-time connectivity to access a central database, then we foresee huge delays due to network connectivity. The best option is to use Ward registration, where even if Zec uses BVR or normal database as before, the risk of central database connectivity issues or tempering is reduced.

The risk to the opposition voters has never been people voting twice. If that happened before, it was never widespread enough to matter in the big picture. What opposition parties must fight tooth and nail is the centralization of vote counting and announcements. That is where tampering will happen. All votes must be counted and announced officially at polling stations. Aggregated results will get their input from the vote counts at each polling station. No to central vote counting.

The manual voter's roll must be signed by each voter next to their name to maintain a clear record of the people who cast their vote at any particular polling station. With the above suggestions, there is really no need for proof of residence but just an ID.

Should Zec go ahead with BVR they need to ensure that there is enough education for all voters on how it will work. The outrage against Government procuring a system for use in national elections is unfounded. It is the duty of the state to procure such state assets. As mentioned before Zec must just be independent of Zanu PF or any other political party for that matter. Zanu pf must also strive to separate party business from state business.

The BVR systems have been used in other African countries and these systems’ by and large have performed well. Our fear is, even if we embrace BVR system because of its being easier to analyze and audit as well as its ability to prevent duplicate registrations, even if people are registered at ward level using the same system, people in rural areas fear or are intimidated by this form of technology. Therefore there is need for the electorate to be educated that the BVR system is only for registering voters and not for Election Day voting.

If Zec is to work within the confines of time frames to educate people, with all parties getting the updated voters roll on time then I feel it's best to adopt it. However, if there is not enough time to educate voters then we must postpone BVR implementation. As long as Zec has a realistic implementation timetable, CSOs, having their controls in place we feel voters should embrace the BVR.

* Kasiyamhuru is the leader of Zimbabwe Partnership for Prosperity (ZiPP)

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