A Public Holiday
General Notice 471C/2018, gazetted on 25th July states that President Mnangagwa has declared tomorrow, 30th July, to be a public holiday. This was a useful public reminder, although legally unnecessary. Section 38(2) of the Electoral Act deems polling day in a harmonised election to be a public holiday.
Following Campaign Activities to Stop
For the whole of today, Sunday 29th July, and tomorrow Monday 30th July until polling stations close, all political parties and candidates must stop the following campaign activities:
- convening or holding public gatherings
- publishing advertisements or statements promoting or opposing a particular party or candidate
- campaigning or displaying campaign material within 300 metres of a polling station or counting centre.
All this is laid down in paragraph 7 of the Electoral Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates and Other Stakeholders in the Fourth Schedule to the Electoral Act. The current code was composed by the major political parties and incorporated in the Electoral Act by the recent Electoral Amendment Act, 2018. All candidates taking part in the elections had to submit a signed copy of this Electoral Code of Conduct when lodging their nomination papers. Parties and candidates cannot, therefore, plead ignorance of the Code’s contents as a defence to alleged breaches.
Polling Station Opening Hours
The general rule is that a polling station must be open continuously from 7.00 am to 7.00 pm. If circumstances make a late opening necessary, the presiding officer [ZEC official in charge of the polling station] may open a polling station late but must then ensure that it remains open for at least 12 hours continuously. Voters already in the queue to vote when closing time is reached must be allowed to vote before the polling station is closed.
Procedure Inside the Polling Station
It may be necessary for a voter to join a queue outside the polling station. A police officer or officers will keep order in the queue. Note: Special attention will be given to persons with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women and nursing mothers.
The sequence of events inside the polling station will be as follows:
- Voter enters polling station. [There will be about ten ZEC officials in the polling station, plus a police officer. There may also be candidates’ election agents and accredited election observers.]
- Voter presents ID and polling officer checks that voter is on voters roll for that polling station [It is not necessary to produce the voter’s voter registration certificate.]
- Polling officer issues voter with three ballot papers, one for presidential election, one for National Assembly constituency election and one for local authority ward councillor election [each ballot paper will first be marked with the “official mark”]
- Polling officer marks voter’s finger with ink.
- Voter goes to ballot booth and in secret marks ballot papers, and then folds each one so that the official mark is visible and the candidates’ names and the voter’s marks are not visible. [Note: The open side of the ballot booth will not face the rest of the polling station; ZEC has in the last few days reversed its earlier decision to change the positioning of the ballot booths to discourage voters from taking “selfies” inside the ballot booth.]
- Voter leaves the ballot booth with the folded ballots, holds them up so that the polling officer can see the official mark stamped on them (but cannot see how the voter voted) and then deposits ballots in respective ballot boxes [there will be one ballot box for each of the three elections].
- Voter exits polling station.
If a voter inadvertently spoils a ballot paper, it may be replaced if the presiding officer is “satisfied of the inadvertence”; the spoilt ballot will be immediately cancelled and the fact of the cancellation noted for record purposes.
Note on Photography Inside Polling Stations
This is covered by section 25 of the Electoral Regulations:
- No photographs may be taken of any person within a ballot booth, so “selfies” to prove how one voted are totally prohibited.
- More generally, accredited observers and candidates and their election agents should note that no photographs may be taken inside a polling station while polling is in progress without the permission of the constituency elections officer.