Zimbabwe 2018 Elections Biometric Voters’ Roll Analysis

Introduction

In two weeks’ time the nation of Zimbabwe is heading to an election which is unique in many ways — most notably because Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa are competing for the first time having replaced Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai respectively. It is also an election where a new voters’ roll has been prepared through what is termed Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise. This entailed members of the public giving their fingerprints and facial photograph as a means of identification. It should be noted that the BVR process was only meant to register prospective voters, voting in itself is not going to be through the use of biometrics but the old fashioned paper checking and fingers marked with indelible ink. In previous elections the voters’ roll has been an area of significant contestation with allegations of rigging through the use of ghost voters or people who had died. It is no wonder there is a lot of keen interest around the voters’ roll to be used in the 2018 elections.

In an ideal world, we should all be confident that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has done impeccable work — however it has been met with suspicion. The opposition had requested for the biometric information to be audited independently; this was rebuffed by ZEC. The Commission chairperson advised that anyone who wanted to audit the voters’ roll was free to do so at their own cost after the final voters’ roll was availed to political parties. Another request from the opposition political parties was access to the servers where the biometric information was kept, this too was declined by the Commission citing security of the sensitive data.

Some of the history to these demands comes from the 2013 election when opposition political parties were not given access to an electronic copy of the voters’ roll before the election. After being soundly beaten at the polls the opposition expedited the request for an electronic copy through a court case already lodged before the election but the Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede and ZEC would not make it available citing a computer problem that rendered the information inaccessible. The electronic copy of the 2013 roll was never made publicly available leaving the opposition to make do with hard copies that were not easy to analyse. The hard copy was only made available on the eve of the election.

While the demands by opposition political parties might seem excessive, they are not without cause. Zimbabwe comes from a history where the electoral bodies have not covered themselves in glory. In 2008 the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission withheld the presidential election results for well over a month eventually announcing results where there was no clear winner, taking the nation to a runoff election. Time might have moved on but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission still has the same faces at the helm, Utoile Silaigwana, whose role in elections goes back to the days of Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) with Lovemore Sekeramayi (late) is now acting Chief Elections Officer. A retired Zimbabwe National Army Major, he is widely perceived to be loyal to the establishment. He oversees the powerful Operations of Zimbabwe Electoral Commission or National Logistics Committee. While the newly appointed Priscilla Chigumba is the chairperson, Utoile is the man who understands the system from the ground up. In this context the clamour by the opposition political parties for more transparency make sense. While the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is keen to fulfil the letter of the law, given their history they should also consider its spirit. They must go the extra mile to win the support of the public.

It is these underlying concerns that resulted in the calls for an audit of the voters’ roll. When it was offered to members of the public at a fee, many rushed to buy so they could see for themselves. This is how Team Pachedu was born; a group of individuals keen to combine their efforts into exploring the voters roll. Team members come from a myriad of backgrounds consisting of, but not limited to, human rights experts, electoral experts, political analysts, computer programmers, data scientists, linguists & bio-statisticians. It was a case of people attracted to one another for a worthy cause. Working independently the team members had to multitask, work mostly at night and strike a balance with daytime jobs and other obligations.

The work of the team entailed putting the data to the test, using available information for checking and comparison. Multiple exploratory & confirmatory approaches were used. The team has been careful to ensure the findings are replicable, based on scientific methods. We are cognisant of the charged environment into which our report is released. We have tried as much as possible to present a factual analysis of the voters’ roll. We believe our work sets the foundation for a better electoral system, fostering an environment where people argue from a perspective of understanding the issues. We believe that knowledge built around facts leads to better decision making, judgments and works to prevent misguided notions. If there is anything Team Pachedu would want to be remembered by, it is creating a foundation for a better electoral environment.

To understand the issues we had to consult statistics of Zimbabwe’s population, understand the system around which the Identity system of Zimbabwe was built, consult the voters’ rolls used in the previous elections and understand how the country is subdivided into different districts. We are eternally grateful to the men and women who made the 2008 and 2013 voters’ rolls available for a comparison. We also would like to thank the people who collaborated with us, volunteering to do the proofreading, checking for errors and guiding us on how to present our analysis as succinctly as possible. To the fans we grew in a short space of time, you gave us the zeal to continue working deep into the nights. You are the real owners of this work. We do not want you to just read it as something pertaining to the 2018 elections but as a foundation of citizen engagement and participation. You are all Team Pachedu. We are all Team Pachedu. When you are done reading this report, put Zimbabwe in the heart of the matter. There is no limit for an inspired people, we are our own limitation towards greatness, where Zimbabwe goes, it is up to us, we are the people.

Team Pachedu website

Read Ghost Voters? An Abridged Technical Review of the 2018 Zimbabwe’s Harmonised Election Voters’ Roll

Access supporting files (17 MB Zip Folder)

Source: Team Pachedu

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