ZESN Public Webinar on “Results Management Systems and their Impact on Electoral Integrity”

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) hosted a virtual public meeting via the ZOOM platform on Wednesday, 18th of August 2021 on the topic “Results Management Systems and their Impact on Electoral Integrity.” The objective of the meeting was to unpack some of the issues contributing to electoral disputes on election results management. Panelists were drawn from a pool of local and regional electoral experts and these were Boniface Chibwana, an elections expert from Malawi; Linda Kunje, a gender activist and member of the Malawi Electoral Commission; Honourable Themba Mliswa, an Independent Member of Parliament (MP) of Norton Constituency; Barbara Nyangairi, a Zimbabwean based think tank on disability issues and elections expert; Victor Tonchi, former Chairperson of the Namibia Electoral Commission and McDonald Chipenzi, a Zambian based Electoral and Governance expert.

In his opening remarks, the moderator Taona Ernest Mwanyisa, noted that the world over, the requirements and demands on an Electoral Management Body (EMB)’s results system have increased considerably. Stakeholders now demand results significantly faster than they used to. In addition, they demand transparency during the entire results process and not just the vote count. Concerns over limited transportation of critical count-related materials by election management bodies, opaque tabulation procedures and tardy release of results have sometimes threatened the integrity of the vote count.

The first panelist, Boniface Chibwana defined Results Management System (RMS) as the effective and procedural counting, tabulating, transmission and announcement of election results. He noted that this system is an integral component of electoral management, as it has the potential to build or break democracies. He was of the opinion that in addition to this system, issues of the credibility, impartiality, effectiveness and perceptions of trust in the EMB are also very important in contributing to the success of any election.

Another panelist, Linda Kunje brought to the fore crucial Results Management incidents of the 2020 Presidential Elections in Malawi. She highlighted the importance of training polling staff and more so Presiding Officers on professional conduct and handling of tally sheets, emphasis on good quality of monitors/party representatives in polling stations, the need to ensure credibility of signatures appended to the result sheets as opposed to usage of initials or names of parties as credibility might be in question, RMS automation and need for a phased approach in its implementation as well as the availability of adequate resources for EMBs to allow them to beef up their RMS to get trust, transparency and buy-in from stakeholders.

Hon Themba Mliswa, emphasized on the importance of deploying well trained and adequately resourced polling agents to monitor both polling and results tallying so as to safeguard the vote against manipulation and lodge complaints where necessary. He noted that in the last elections in Zimbabwe, political parties did not provide enough polling agents. He told the meeting that in 2018, he made sure that he had agents in all the polling stations in order to maintain vigilance and guard the people’s vote. Further he emphasized that party agents should be thoroughly trained so they understand their roles and responsibilities. Given the economic challenges and the unemployment rate bedeviling many countries, he suggested that party agents should be provided with resources and support to cater for their transport, food and communication so that they can effectively undertake their roles. Mliswa also implored political parties to create their own parallel Results Management Systems in order to protect their votes. Mliswa also emphasized that the problem in Zimbabwe goes beyond just the Results Management System, but the electoral environment which promotes fear and is marred by many electoral malpractices.

Asked on what worked in the just ended elections in Zambia in terms of Election Management Systems and the oversight mechanisms employed by civil society organisations, McDonald Chipenzi noted that the issue of Results Management Systems is still problematic in Zambia, despite some recent changes made to it. He spoke about the decentralization of the exercise, where counting, tallying and declarations were done at each polling station and results posted outside the polling station in order to promote transparency and accountability, and that this worked very well. He also noted that although the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) opened up the space for the monitors and agents to observe at the polling stations, most of the polling stations were unmanned by agents. He attributed this to lack of adequate resources to deploy the agents. The panelist also reported on the inefficiency in counting at polling station level, where the counting delayed the transmission of results. He noted that counting and tallying would take the whole night, for as little as 900 votes and that this brought about suspicion, anxiety, speculation as well as malicious allegations in some instances. Asked how Zambia managed to get the Youth to vote despite the COVID-19 pandemic which restricted movements and gatherings, Chipenzi emphasized on the role of social media and well as the desire to end unemployment among the Youths in the country.

Victor Tonchi was asked to speak about the election results and verification center in Namibia where the Election Commission of Namibia (ECN) worked closely with the South African Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to set up a technology-driven facility to verify all results before they were announced. He noted that besides this system being technologically driven, it has been subject to a lot of human error, compounded by the hiring of new staff specifically for an election, which usually mars the process. He also blamed politics for downplaying a lot of the efforts made, and concluded that the electronic system has not worked the way it was expected to work.

Another panelist, Barbara Nyangairi was asked about the practicality of ensuring that political parties have access to servers and other data and whether or not this will enhance integrity of the process. She noted that as much as these issues bring about questions of security, there are also ways that can be considered to build citizen trust and enhance stakeholder confidence. She spoke on the need to ensure a balance between accuracy and speed, and emphasized that electronic transmission of results will reduce human error. She also recommended that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) publishes election results on the website, which increases stakeholder confidence.

Panelists were also asked to talk about the process of Parallel Voter Tabulation (PVT), how it can be demystified so that citizens are not suspicious of it but embrace it as a genuine method of projecting results. Panelists recommended that citizens should be taught about the methodologies of PVT, and that civil society should take a leading role in this in collaboration with the EMBs. It was noted that the PVT is also instrumental in complementing efforts of the EMBs and in providing information on the whole electoral process and not just the results. It needs very little resources to come out with accurate information and results, thereby alleviating anxieties and suspicions.

When the debate was opened up to the audience in the meeting, various ideas were raised with regards to the Results Management Systems and the election operating environments in the region. Participants expressed concern about the threat of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) deregistration in Zimbabwe, noting that it would become more difficult for them to attend to pertinent electoral issues under such a hostile environment. The need to ensure meaningful transfer of power after elections was also discussed, as it is often a problem in some elections. One participant expressed the desire to ensure the independence and professionalism of the EMBs as well as making sure that they are well funded. It was emphasized that the environment under which elections take place is the most important factor in safeguarding the credibility, freeness and fairness of the exercise.

In their final remarks, panelists emphasized the need to focus on the whole Electoral Cycle approach and not just focus on Results Management. Another recommendation was the need to invest in PVT, the electronic transmission of results and the adequate resourcing of not only EMBs, but other institutions that have a bearing on the conduct of elections. The need for the independence of the EMB and other electoral institutions was also emphasized by all panelists. Other recommendations included the need for well trained and professional party agents in all elections, decentralization of the Results Management System in order to enhance accountability and a constant interface of electoral institutions with the media so that they are able to accurately report on election proceedings.

In conclusion, the meeting was a success as evidenced by the high numbers of people it attracted from different parts of the world and the robust debate it generated which led to recommendations on how best the Results Management System and the electoral environment can be enhanced to ensure Electoral integrity.

Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Networ

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