In the 2013 election, disproportionately large numbers of voters were assisted to vote. Sectors of society attributed these numbers to intimidation and resultant fear. Others have popularly referred to this phenomenon, among other tactics, as a “harvest of fear” characterizing the Zimbabwean electoral process. The law allows for assisted voting and explains the process. However, is the law full proof from mal-practice? What measures to curb abuse, deter its use to absolute necessity and protect the right to vote in secret? It is imperative that effective measures are taken to ensure that only persons who genuinely need assistance to vote and who want such assistance are given such assistance. This brief proposes measures to answer the grey areas and deter the abuse of assisted voting.
The relevant electoral provision should contain various safeguards aimed at protecting and or enhancing the interests and rights of the handicapped and the illiterate. Fundamentally, this brief serves as a model law proposal for assisted voting while advancing the interests of people living with disabilities to free exercise their right to vote. In so doing;
- Parliament of Zimbabwe is encouraged to facilitate legal changes that are consistent with the rights provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
- Interest groups representing people living with disabilities to utilize the model laws to advocate for protection or advancement of their rights
- The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to utilize their mandate under section 157 (4) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe to propose laws.
- ZEC through voter registration regulations and voter education should advance the rights of people living with disabilities and the illiterate.
Voter Registration for assisted voters
The first safeguard should be the insertion of provisions in the sections dealing with registration of voters. There should be provisions whereunder those persons who wish to receive assistance in voting will be asked to indicate this when they register to vote. They will also be asked to indicate what form of assistance they will require e.g. that blind voters want to use Braille template so that they can vote in secret or that illiterate voters will want to be assisted by trusted friends.
Proposed changes to assisted voting
The new provisions below that are underlined, are suggested as inclusions in the sections specifically dealing with the illiterate and physically handicapped voters.
Voting by illiterate or physically handicapped voters
- Upon request by a voter who is illiterate or physically handicapped and cannot vote in the way set out in section 57, a presiding officer shall-
- Permit another person, selected by the voter, to assist the voter in exercising his or her vote after the presiding officer has satisfied himself or herself that the voter has freely agreed to be assisted by the person concerned and no pressure has been applied to him or her to accept such assistance from the person who is to assist him or her; or
5) No person other than-
- The person selected by the voter in terms of subsection (1)(a) shall take part in assisting an illiterate or physically handicapped voter, and no person who is entitled to be in a polling station shall attempt to ascertain how the voter is voting:
Provided that, in the case of a voter who is visually impaired, the presiding officer shall observe the casting of the vote in order to ensure that the voter’s intention is respected by the person assisting him or her; Repeal this proviso. The blind voter should be able either to vote using a braille template or vote with the assistance of a trusted person without the presence of the presiding officer
- The presiding officer selected by the voter in terms of subsection (1)(b) and the persons there mentioned shall assist an illiterate or physically handicapped voter.
- The presiding officer shall cause the name of every voter who has been assisted in terms of subsection (1)(a) or (b), and the reason why that voter has been assisted, to be entered on a list.
- Voting by illiterate voters
If an illiterate voter so wishes, he or she may vote without being assisted by another person. An illiterate voter may vote without assistance by identifying the political party for whom heor she wishes to vote and by identifying the political party by its symbol and then placing his or her mark in the box provided for voting alongside the candidate or on box containing the party symbol on the ballot paper or on any other box in the line which contains the box for the candidate of the political part concerned.
- Facilities for visually impaired voters to vote
At each polling station, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must provide enlarged copies of the ballot paper for use by visually impaired persons and braille voting templates for those persons who have no eyesight and wish to use such braille voting templates.
- Persons with physical disabilities
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must ensure that all polling stations are accessible to persons with physical disabilities.
- Persons with mental disabilities
A presiding officer may not refuse to allow a person with apparent mental disability to vote unless the voter has been declared to be mentally incompetent in terms of the Mental Health Act;
Provided that a voter may be excluded from a polling station if the voter with an apparent mental disability behaves in a manner which endangers persons inside the polling station or disrupts the voting process.
- Awareness campaign aimed at visually impaired and illiterate voters
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must engage in an awareness campaign targeting visually impaired and illiterate voters to explain that they may either vote by being assisted by a person of their choice or by marking the ballot paper in the manner provided for in subsection 7 and 8.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), multi-party liaison committees and political parties should also monitor the situation on the ground to ensure that the system of assisted voting is not politically abused. Widespread voter education, in particular, in the rural areas where this phenomenon is rife, should be prioritized and promoted.