Zimbabweans awoke Saturday morning to take part in nation-wide By-elections in 122 of the 1958 wards and 28 Constituencies out of the 210 National Assembly seats. The polls take place after a period of two years wherein the Government held that the COVID-19 pandemic locally created conditions that made it impossible to hold the By-elections that became vacant due to recalls of party representatives and deaths of elected persons. Subsequent to the Presidential Proclamation of the 8th of January 2022, with the By-Elections slated for 26th of March 2022 in the largest mass scale by-elections ever held in the country. In response, and in line with its mandate to support development and electoral process in Zimbabwe as part of its governance and human rights work, the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe has deployed an accredited Women-only Election Observation Mission (WEOM) with a capacity of 80 static observers and 10 roving observer teams throughout the country.
The polling stations nationwide, due to open at 7am, largely opened on time or under 15 mins past the hour. Overally, the polling stations were ready to kick start the voting process. However, most polling station encountered a low early morning turnout of voters. Voters trickled into polling stations with the WCoZ Women-only Election Observation Mission (WEOM) reporting predominantly middle aged and older persons taking up the opportunity to vote. In some instances, turn-out was so low as to not require multiple queues. Nonetheless some polling stations ensured that despite low number of voters in queues they instituted gender disaggregated queues and provided priority voting for pregnant women and the elderly. In some areas, people were affected by rains as it started to rain in the morning. The Polling stations signage by ZEC in most Constituencies and wards were clearly marked, providing easy access for the voters. Generally, there has been a marked improvement regarding engagement levels between Polling station Presiding Officers and Observers, at various polling stations, as of this afternoon.
By 10:30 am this morning , the WEOM reported slightly increased voter turnouts moving from low to medium voter turnouts at polling stations before midday. The on-going rains may have affected communities in Chivhu and Bulawayo voter turnout in the morning. However, some constituencies reported high voter turnout namely, Buhera and Mutusa South in Manicaland and in Harare province Epworth and Harare Central.
Whilst the period before polling was largely calm, a few polling stations required polling agents to remove their campaign material at least 300 metres away from the polling stations. As per the announcement of the Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage on the eve of the election, security would be deployed Deployment of security personnel, in the two metropolitan provinces Bulawayo and Harare there were roadblocks on major roadblocks leading into the central business districts. Police at polling stations were present in notable numbers but were visibly unarmed. In a few constituencies prior to polling in Harare there were reports from the WEOM, of police armed with rifles at various community centres and on patrols. The environment on polling day morning was largely calm with little indication that elections of such a large scale were taking place across the country.
Policy inconsistencies and delays in announcements on what to expect voters, candidates and observers flared up early morning. As the long-awaited elections are taking place under prevailing COVID-19 regulations and ZEC COVID regulations, concerns were being raised by voters of their experiences of using the COVID-19 contact tracing sheets. Several voters questioned why the contact tracing sheet was necessary to complete at the entrance of the polling station as the tracing could easily be undertaken using the voters roll inside polling stations that already contains the names and details of persons who will have voted at that polling station. Further, in certain constituencies, the WEOM observed that voters were being recorded on either COVID-19 Tracing sheets, or some ordinary exercise books. This not only raised anxiety and discomforts amongst the voters, but also created problems as some women and men complained or struggled to complete the COVID-19 contact tracing sheets. These incidents raise concerns regarding literacy levels of the voters which are largely supposed to be irrelevant as voting is protected by the usage of simply placing a mark on the preferred candidate.
A perennial issue for the women voters has arisen once more, namely the issue of nail polish and artificial nails when seeking to vote. There have been widespread reports of women voters being requested to remove nail polish or artificial nails as the usage of marking pens makes the marking of the finger difficult when it is covered in nail polish or artificial nails. This is an area of policy inconsistency which is driven largely, in part, with the procurement of the finger marking agent by ZEC. In 2018 the finger marking agent was a dipping ink which could mark either nail polish covered or artificial nails with its ink accordingly there was no need to remove nail polish or artificial nails. There was delayed communication on the form of the marking agent which was a marking pen as opposed to a marking dipping ink. Accordingly, the marking pen does not have the capacity to mark nail polish covered nails or artificial nails hence the inconsistency and confusion of voters. In Mabelreign Girls High polling station this cost a woman her right to vote as she practically was unable to return to the polling station to cast her vote after being redirected.
Despite significant efforts in Voter education, a small number of voters turned up at various polling stations across the country with their Driver Licences as proof of identification as opposed to the National registration of Birth certificate or valid passport. Persons were also turned away as their names were not appearing on the voters roll this appeared to affect largely younger voters who had registered to vote during their Voter Registration Blitz of 2022 and were not aware that this registration will make them eligible to vote in 2023 2023 and not the 2022 By-Elections. We remain concerned by the practices observed in Glenview where redirected voters were being requested to present themselves at the Command centre as opposed to election officials forwarding information to the command centres and saving turned away voters for additional administrative tasks.
Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe