Two Bulawayo-based journalists have petitioned Parliament to amend section 73 of the Electoral Act and include journalists among persons who qualify for postal voting ahead of the 2023 harmonised polls.
The petition was received in Parliament on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, and Speaker of House Jacob Mudenda said it was referred to the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
Postal voting is voting in an election where ballot papers are distributed to electors by post, in contrast to electors voting in person at a polling station.
Section 73 (1) of the Electoral Act states that a person who wishes to vote by post may apply to the Chief Elections Officer for a postal ballot paper. Provided that applications for postal ballot papers by members of a disciplined force may be made to the chief elections officer only through their commanding officers.
In their petition, Mandla Tshuma and Lulu Brenda Harris of the Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE) argued that journalists play a pivotal role in society as was seen at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown, when the Government on April 19, 2020, accorded the media sector an essential/critical service status through Statutory Instrument 93 of 2020.
They said while most people were confined to their homes for the greater part of 2020, journalists, security services, and medical personnel, among others, went about doing their national duties.
“Sadly, however, the country’s laws only allow postal voting for members of the security services and other government employees (including their spouses) while turning a blind eye to media practitioners who during polls are deployed to cover elections outside their constituencies,” they said.
Tshuma and Harris said the discriminatory nature of laws has resulted in journalists failing to exercise their democratic right to vote in the previous elections.
“We pray that this should not be allowed to continue under the new dispensation,” they said.