25 January 2016
The Election Resource Centre (ERC) commends the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for considering adoption of a biometric voter registration system ahead of the 2018 General Election. Such a development is critical in increasing administrative efficiency, advancing democracy in Zimbabwe and in ensuring the restoration of public confidence in electoral processes. Elections in Zimbabwe have previously been disputed owing to various flaws, chief amongst them being the voters’ roll which is accused of being in shambles by both local and international electoral stakeholders. The voters’ roll that has been used before allegedly comprised of names of dead people, duplicate entries, below voting age voters and wrongly captured voter details. In addition, the voter registration process was allegedly manipulated in various ways including instances where some political parties simply submitted names of their supporters without physically availing themselves as required by the law therefore giving those political parties an advantage over others. This was compounded by the uncontrolled use of voter slips and the associated abuse of the same, particularly in the 2013 harmonised elections.
The biometric voter registration system however requires would be registered voters to be available physically as it involves the use of bio-data such as finger prints or iris. The system is also able to detect multiple entries of registered voters and automatically eliminate old and erroneous records to replace them with new and accurately entered records.
The capturing of biometric data will limit possible duplication and improve the identification of voters during voting. If handled properly and in accordance with the principles for voter registration, biometric voter registration will boost public confidence. Various African countries have made great strides in adopting technology in the running of their elections. Biometric voter registration is already being used in African countries such as Nigeria, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Ghana amongst others.In adopting any use of technology in elections and specific to biometric voter registration, the ERC urges ZEC to remain guided by the principles of voter registration which include integrity, inclusiveness, comprehensiveness, accuracy, accessibility, an informed public, transparency and security. We particularly urge ZEC to ensure the following:
- Openly engage stakeholders in planning, implementation and review of the voter registration process.
- The adoption of a biometric voter registration system must be preceded by an extensive and comprehensive voter education exercise. All election stakeholders, that is, the electorate, civil society, political parties and other interested stakeholders must be fully aware of the process.
- Must be supported by early invitation of observers and formal recognition of observers to observe the voter-registration process and to allow such observation to include access to the data capturing, data entry and data processing.
- In response to wide spread voter intimidation which has previously contributed to voter apathy, ZEC must assure voters of their safety and security.
We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to adequately fund ZEC and allow them access to international experts, thus demonstrating commitment to this noble process. The government must encourage the conduct of a timeous, professional and non-partisan voter registration exercise that complies with international best practice.