Most polling stations closed on time in adherence to Section 53 (1) of the Electoral Act which stipulates that a polling station shall be open continuously from 7am to 7pm on a polling day or for at least 12 hours on the polling day. Voters who were in the queue at the time of closing were permitted by the presiding officer to cast their ballots.
Turnout for the by-election was 54.48%. Low voter turnout compared to the July 2018 elections can possibly be attributed to limited voter education which was not effectively conducted. For the 11 wards in Mutoko North, 4 voter educators were deployed per ward by ZEC. They were 23 272 registered voters which represents an average of about 2 115 voters per ward and only 4 voter educators. Voter education was only carried out for 7 days. However, voter education alone will not explain the low voter turnout. By-elections historically attract limited participation by political parties and voters. The level of competition is often limited and national attention is barely drawn to the election in most cases.
Section 59 of the Electoral Act clearly stipulates that a voter who is illiterate or physically handicapped is assisted to vote upon request and the presiding officer shall permit another person, selected by the voter, to assist the voter and in the absence of a person selected by the voter, assist the voter in exercising his or her vote in the presence of two other electoral officers or employees of the Commission and a police officer on duty. However, the provision does not accommodate independent verification of the need for assistance as requested.
The ERC recommended to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) during the initial voter registration process that part of the information that could be collected was the need for assistance on voting. Such information would not only help in verifying the need for assistance to vote on polling day but it would also assist in the deployment of voter education ahead of polling.
The trend of a high rate in assisted voters continues in rural communities which could be part of a standing tradition of asking to be assisted without actually needing the assistance. The total number of assisted voters was not included on final collation form at the constituency command centre and the total number of assisted voters could not, therefore, be verified.
Turned away voters
Some aspiring voters were turned away from voting for mainly bringing invalid proof of identity such as driver’s license and birth certificates while for others their names were not appearing on the voters’ roll suggesting that they had not registered to vote.
Voter education can assist in limiting voters being turned away. The limitations of the voter education conducted by ZEC could explain the reasons for voters being turned away. In future, voter education could be less generic and address identified local challenges. A learning component must be engrained in future administration of electoral processes.
Transmission of the Results
According to Section 64 of the Electoral Act, after the counting is completed at polling station, the presiding officer in the presence of election agents shall close and seal the aperture in the ballot box, affix a copy of the polling station return outside the polling station and transmit the ballot box to the Ward Collation Centre. At the Ward Collation Centre, the ward elections officer confirms each polling station returns and add together the number of votes received by each candidate in each polling station and transmits the results to the constituency centre (Section 65 of the Electoral Act).
After counting of the ballots at polling stations, V11 forms were taken to the Ward Collation Centre where the results were collated for the Ward whilst V11 forms and the election residue (ballot box etc) were sent to the Constituency Command Centre straight from the polling station. ZEC Polling Officials were decommissioned at the Ward Collation Centres and they handed in their accreditation. The Constituency Elections Officer declared the results of the election which were as follows:
- Edison Mugoma (NCA) 94
- Boniface Mushore (MDC Alliance) 1,329
- Rambidzai Nyabote (Zanu PF) 11,141
ZEC polling officials observed, exhibited an overall knowledge in the work they were undertaking which included knowledge in the overall close of poll procedures. However, knowledge and confidence are separate entities which, when conducting an election should go hand in hand.
The officials showed minimal confidence in their conduct and execution of their functions and seemed to execute their mandate with high levels of anxiety.
The manner which the Polling Station Officials conduct themselves within the stations has a contributory effect on the overall credibility of the polling process. The failure to execute their mandate in a manner which instill confidence in the process will have a negative bearing on the credibility of the election itself.
While broadly speaking the closing and counting procedures were followed as defined in terms of the Electoral Act and the procedures to the credit of ZEC, the finalization of the results still lacked all the required information to verify the declared results. Some missing information such the number of assisted voters and the number of turned away voters which information was collected at every polling stations did not form the finally results tally.
The ERC recommends that the ZEC improved documentation of all key data collected at each polling station to improve verification of the finally tally. It is also recommended that responsive voter education be deployed ahead of polling day targeting established trends in particular communities. ZEC is further encouraged to release key information such as the number of ballot papers printed and issued and to reconciled used ballots against the unused ones. There is still a lot of room for the election management body to enhance transparency, accountability and verifiability of election results during elections but it is important for by-elections to be used as a testing ground to improve the credibility of future elections.
Source: Election Resource Centre (ERC)