Local councils should manage and control the voters’ roll, not the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), according to a top political scientist, because voter records should be kept and controlled at the local level.
Professor Jonathan Moyo stated that ZEC lacks the capacity and competence to administer the voters’ roll.
His sentiments also come after some legislators proposed that some of ZEC’s functions on voter registration be returned to the Registrar General’s office which can automatically register voters when they reach the age of 18.
Prof Moyo said because ZEC uses a polling station-based voters’ roll, the voters’ roll has been decentralised to village levels but noted “unfortunately, ZEC has not decentralised its management to local areas.”
“The voters’ roll is still managed by a central body in Harare called ZEC. This body neither has the capacity nor competence to manage the voters roll and it has admitted that it doesn’t have,” he said.
Prof Moyo alluded to talks in Parliament earlier this year on the Electoral Amendment Bill, during which some MPs said ZEC lacked the capacity to manage voter registration.
“If you check the Hansard debate earlier this year, there was a consensus in this outgoing Parliament, in the political community and within ZEC that ZEC is not the best body to register voters and therefore manage the voters’ roll,” he said.
Read about that discussion here: Voter registration should be returned to RG’s office: MP – #Asakhe – CITE
Although Prof Moyo described these concessions across the political divide as “useful and significant,” the thinking that the voters’ roll is better managed by the Registrar General’s office because former boss Tobaiwa Mudede who was accused of manipulating it in favour of Zanu PF was not there anymore, is primitive.
“Now that Mudede is not there, people are saying voter registration should be returned to the RG’s office is primitive politics because it is targeting a person. Reforms ought to be institutional and substantive,” he explained.
It is important to note progressive settings where people and households relate to what they see as local, which is why Prof Moyo suggested that better management and control of the voters’ roll was the local municipality.
“The best institutional management of the voters’ roll is the local municipality, not ZEC and the Registrar General but the local authority,” Prof Moyo said.
“In a constitutional democracy and progressive society, the voters’ roll is managed and controlled at a local level so that if someone wants to say, ‘so and so is not resident there, it can be seen and not theoretical.”
Since the voters’ roll is not managed locally, Prof Moyo said it was why Zanu PF activist, Lovedale Mangwana challenged independent presidential candidate Saviour Kasukuwere on grounds that he was not registered in his constituency.
“A guy from Mhondoro complained that another person who doesn’t come in the same community with him was not on the voters’ roll and therefore infringing on his rights but what right is that when (Mangwana) was not part of (Kasukuwere’s) community,” he questioned.
The political scientist said the principle -local politics is best- also applied to a decentralised voters roll at a polling station.
“This is the best international practice. The voters’ roll in America, which a lot of Zimbabweans want to use as a democratic society, is controlled at the county level. There is no federal or state voters’ roll and each county has its own rules. In the UK, the electoral commission does not run elections but are run by returning officers in local councils,” Prof Moyo said.
“In Zimbabwe, we don’t have this because someone is running a local experiment yet the principle of decentralising functions deals with fundamental rights of people as enshrined in Zimbabwe’s new constitution, right from Section 3, which states the authority to govern is derived from the people, whether legislative, executive and judicial.”
Prof Moyo added a founding value of Zimbabwe’s constitution is devolution and decentralisation of governmental power and functions, of which the voters’ roll is one such function.
“The voters’ roll should now be appropriately be in the hands of the local municipality and once that happens this principle of residency falls away for national office but stays for local office,” he said.
“If you take countries where the voters’ roll is decentralised, people are able to vote without stringent residency requirements. You won’t find an example where one has to register more than 90 days before an election. In America, only two thirds of states require residency that one should be on or register at least 30 days before the election. One third of the counties don’t require any period. One can in fact go register on the voters’ roll on Voting day and vote.”
He also noted that in the UK, not anyone was able to access the voters’ roll, if they were not a registered political party or a candidate or a consumer based organisation.
“You cannot access the voters’ roll where anyone can come and pay x amount either for an electronic or physical copy like you are buying milk off the shelf. It is unacceptable and that’s the best practice. The link between voters’ roll and voters’ private information should be accessible to appropriate people who can be held accountable if they abuse that information,” Prof Moyo said.