Voter Registration: Impact on Democratic Elections in Zimbabwe

On Wednesday 7 July 2021, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network hosted a virtual public meeting on the topic “Voter Registration: Impact on Democratic Elections in Zimbabwe.” The panelists in the meeting were; Raphael Bareyi from the umbrella body National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH), Nomuhle Nyoni, a women empowerment activist, Isabel Mwonzora-Simango representing the MDC-T, Tafadzwa Mugwadi representing ZANU PF, and Evernice Munando, Director of the Female Students Network.

The Moderator, Sally Ncube, in her introductory remarks, noted that the integrity of the Voter Registration Process (VRP) is critical to ensuring a free, fair and credible elections. The objective of the meeting was to discuss and cultivate a consensus on the impact of COVID-19 on Voter Registration and Democratic Elections and how best the Voter Registration process can be improved before the next elections in 2023.

One of the panelists, Raphael Bareyi, who was representing Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) from the NASCOH was of the opinion that there is need for more voter education for voter registration, especially in rural areas. He advocated for the inclusion of PwDs in the processes, and that disability-friendly materials must be used, such as braille. He also emphasized the need for the participation of youths, which should be enabled by an easy process of getting National Identity documents that enable them to register to vote. He further called for Zimbabweans in the diaspora to be given the chance to vote and the establishment of a mechanism for them to exercise this right, which in his view, is clearly provided for under section 67 of the Constitution. He encouraged the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to update their voter registration systems to avoid problems such as having deceased persons appearing on the voters’ roll and to reflect individuals who have moved from where they had been staying before.

Another panelist, Nomuhle Nyoni, also called for special provisions for the youth to acquire the necessary documentation to enable them to register to vote, as well as the use of all languages for voter education and registration (including braille and sign language). She also emphasized on the need for the youth and women to be educated about the importance of voting and encouraged them to participate in all electoral processes.

The ZANU-PF representative Tafadzwa Mugwadi, spoke against the provision of diaspora voting as he said it presents many challenges. He posed the question, “What have local voters failed to do that makes the diaspora votes so desirable?” He said diaspora voting is difficult to achieve as it is not easy to put in place mechanisms to identify and register Zimbabweans in the diaspora in each and every country in this world. He also cited the unavailability of resources to implement the diaspora vote, and that the current sanctions imposed on certain leaders in the country would not allow them to campaign in the diaspora, placing them on unfair footing. Mugwadi also expressed the sentiment that voting is an individual decision, some voters simply do not want to vote and to try to convince them to do so is a violation of their rights.

Isabel Mwonzora, the panelist representing the Movement for Democratic Change-T (MDC-T) spoke about the requirement for proof of residence in order to register to vote and noted that some people cannot register because they do not possess this requirement , especially in rural areas. She bemoaned the fact that the voters’ roll is often released too late for stakeholders to adequately inspect it. Mwonzora implored the ZEC to notify people on the exclusion list in time so that they can resolve their issues before Election Day. On the issue of the diaspora vote, she questioned why Zimbabwe relies on the Diaspora for many things, including foreign direct investment, yet does not want their involvement when it comes to voting? She also emphasized the need for more women to be represented in politics, not just as voters but as potential candidates too.

Another panelist, Evernice Munando, was of the thinking that the country should move towards the digitalization of the registration process since COVID-19 might be here to stay and there is a need to address the potential challenges it will continue to pose. She recommended that the voters’ roll be continuously updated and made widely available to stakeholders. On the participation of women in the electoral process, she pointed at patriarchy as a deterrent, especially in rural areas where a woman’s husband can prevent her from participating in voting. She also called for the decentralization of registration centres, which are sometimes too far for pregnant women, PwDs and sick persons to access.

When the discussion was opened to the floor, several opinions and recommendations were proffered by participants on the subject. One of the suggestions was that since we are using a polling station-based voting system in Zimbabwe, we can consider using all the polling stations used in the previous election as voter registration centers so that the process is more accessible to the people, in addition to conducting door-to-door registration exercises. Another opinion was that voter registration apathy is a result of the reluctance of the current government to implement genuine electoral reforms, which to some extent frustrates potential voters and even key electoral stakeholders. Another suggestion was that since we have adopted polling station-based voting, proof of residency the requirement has become unnecessary as a name is only found at one polling station where one is registered.

The meeting made several recommendations to strengthen voter registration in Zimbabwe. These include the institution of online voter registration, compelling ZEC to notify individuals when they make mistakes on voter information or when they have been excluded from the roll, engaging the youth, women, and new voters and educating them on the importance of registering to vote and its implications on other electoral processes such as the boundary delimitation. Participants also underscored that people in the diaspora should be allowed to vote because they contribute immensely to the country.

The meeting was conducted via the ZOOM virtual platform and was attended by 58 people. It was also streamed on Facebook and reached 9 859 people.

Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network