Statement by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on recent reports that it has added new polling stations and changed polling stations without the knowledge of voters. The statement was delivered by acting CEO Jane Pamhidzirai Chigidji:
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission wishes to set the record straight on a number of allegations and issues that have been extensively published in both social and some print. media in the past few days. The allegations if not clarified or cleared have the effect of causing unnecessary alarm and despondency to the public and soiling our electoral process for selfish political gain.
Alleged Vote Rigging
Time and again, the Commission has been accused by certain quotas of rigging elections in this country in favor of a political party or candidates. Over time, most people have come to accept this assertion as fact without interrogating the veracity of these claims. For the record, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is a creature of a statute whose members are appointed in terms of procedures outlined in Zimbabwean law.
Further, its mandate as provided for in terms of the Constitution and the electoral law of the country. It is very much alive to the requirements of operating within the confines of the law and to the consequences of failure to adhere to the same. It is a member of regional international bodies that perform the same functions as it and which organizations require adherence to set standards. It has over the years religiously followed these standards including the SADC guidelines and principles governing the conduct of elections to the extent of entrenching them in the law thus can actually boast that it is one of those institutions that have made significant progress in applying same.
The high level of suspicion and the toxic nature of the political environment in this country requires constant review of electoral processes to address perceived shortcomings. Therefore, all the electoral reforms that have been introduced in this country are part of the efforts to improve election administration in general and to address concerns by some stakeholders of alleged vote-rigging.
However, be that as it may, the Commission notes that despite these efforts it has made or is making to improve the electoral process, some stakeholders have clearly taken a vow to ensure that the electorate is blinded to any progress that is being made to invest in an endeavor to soil all the work that is being done by it. It has become a habit of some stakeholders to make spurious but damaging allegations against the Commission. They raise their allegations in the media without first seeking clarification from the Commission as a deliberate strategy. They also seek to weigh down the Commission by constantly instituting litigation against it which in many cases is founded on baseless allegations simply as a means to bring its name into disrepute. However, the Commission is also alive to the fact that it is every citizen’s right to take the Commission to court on any matter they feel aggrieved on.
Time and again, some stakeholders have abused the electorate by churning misinformation to them that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) rigs elections in this country. Some citizens have gullibly accepted the allegations as fact without challenging those who make them.
The Commission has now come to the conclusion that there are some stakeholders who have resolved to adopt a strategy of soiling its credibility to account for their electoral loss or losses to the electorate. In the past, some have openly confessed to the Commission that they cannot always tell their constituents the truth for fear of losing their support. Thus they have to find a scapegoat and that scapegoat is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. However, lies have no legs and chickens will always come back home to roost.
Further, the Commission has always told its stakeholders that their false allegations of vote-rigging contribute to voter apathy and to loss of confidence in the electoral processes by the electorate. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is glad to note that some have since seen the light and are now encouraging their supporters to participate in electoral processes run by ZEC, ironically the same institution they allege to be responsible for stealing their votes. The question as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is what has changed now?
The Commission wishes to reiterate to all well-meaning Zimbabweans that the systems used in conducting elections are world-class and there is no room for tempering with their votes. To those who know elections, the polling station-based voting system and use of biometric technology such as the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) cannot be faltered as these are specifically designed to guard against any form of vote-rigging.
I challenge all Zimbabwean citizens, the next time they come across a person alleging that there is vote rigging in Zimbabwe to invoke the legal maxim “he who alleges must prove”. If surely there is vote rigging in Zimbabwe, someone must be able to prove it. At least that person should be able to trace the incident of vote-rigging and link it to a particular location, polling station, or collation center and be able to tell the time the incident occurred.
Further, that person must be able to prove how many votes have been stolen or miscounted, and who has been prejudiced among other things. It is high time Zimbabweans should refuse to be abused and disabuse themselves of thinking that elections are rigged in this country. That is a myth and a fallacy and the Commission challenges anyone to prove it otherwise. All the allegations that have been made against the Commission on vote-rigging, are mere bare allegations not supported by fact, no figures, no location, or names of people prejudiced.
Even where courts are roped in to establish any wrongfulness on its part and the Commission is absolved, false political narratives continue to be generated simply to satisfy the ego of its detractors. The allegations are mere political statements meant to hoodwink voters for the selfish gain of politicians who believe only a result in their favor should come out of the ballot.
This is despite the fact that there are always accredited observers and party agents present at polling stations and collation centers to observe electoral processes. So the next time you have a person alleging vote-rigging by the Commission, ask them where which candidate, how many votes and how did that happen? The Commission assures you that you will not get an answer to these questions.
The Voters Roll
Each year leading to an election, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission encounters various allegations that have to do with the voter’s roll. Again it has been observed that once that has started, false and misleading allegations will be carried into the election year as a fall-back position. These allegations are always made through the media and no prior clarification is sought from the Commission.
In essence, there is always an attempt to drag the Commission to engage in a public wrangle with the electorate over issues concerning its mandate. It is not part of the Commission’s mandate to address issues in the media or to engage in unproductive public debates on issues concerning electoral information in its custody. The Commission has established and publicized stakeholder platforms where it freely addresses stakeholder concerns in an amicable fashion and without exposing the public to grandstanding antics. Therefore, genuine stakeholders do not make noise in the media but do know where to take their grievances to.
The Commission has an open-door policy where it allows stakeholders to raise any issues with it and responds professionally to same. It is not at war and will never engage in a war with its stakeholders but it will endeavor to share useful information with all for election purposes. Any aggrieved stakeholder is free to visit the Commission to seek information but it is both retrogressive and irresponsible for any person or stakeholder to cause alarm and despondency by peddling falsehoods.
The alleged 2022 Voters Roll
Now that various issues have been raised in the social media concerning an alleged 2022 voters roll that is being analyzed by a certain consultant of a stakeholder, the Commission ought to give a response to let the public know of the truth and other administrative processes being undertaken regarding the issue.
The Commission wishes to dissociate itself with the copy of the alleged voters roll that was allegedly issued to the stakeholder concerned for the reason that it was not procedurally issued and for the record, it has reason to believe that there was connivance between certain members of its staff and a representative of the stakeholder to issue a tempered copy so as to suit that stakeholder’s narrative.
Preliminary investigations have indicated that the proper procedure followed once a person requests for the voters roll in terms of section 21(3) of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] was not observed. There is no written record of the request made by the stakeholder concerned to the Chief Elections Officer as is the normal procedure. There is no record or information confirming that the CEO sanctioned the issuance of that alleged voters roll. In fact, what has been established is that the alleged voter’s roll was issued on a verbal request to an officer in the department concerned without the approval or knowledge of the Chief Elections Officer. The requested document upon which it was issued does not bear any signature from any ZEC official.
As a result of that incident, the Commission has suspended some officials involved in the production of the voter’s rolls while investigations are being carried out to establish the circumstances under which the alleged “2020 voters roll was issued without following proper procedure and without the authority or knowledge of the CEO. The Commission views the matter seriously and urges all stakeholders to adopt a professional approach when dealing with it.
While the voters roll is a public document, there is an administrative procedure to follow for control purposes once a request is made in terms of Section 21(3) of the Electoral Act. It is also important to note that the voters roll is a fluid document that undergoes constant changes save in cases where it is closed for election purposes. Each day there are new registrants, transfers, deaths, and corrections that are added on or effected in the voters roll and that is the reason why the law provides for a reasonable period within which the Commission should provide the same to a person who has requested it. That period is meant to allow the voters roll to be updated so that all information therein is accurate and reflects the correct state of affairs as of the date of issue.
The Commission will not take responsibility for any documents issued clandestinely, under unclear circumstances, and without following proper procedure. Those who require copies of the voters roll are requested to direct their written requests to the CEO and their requests are formally acknowledged and are advised to approach the relevant department which in turn will inform them of the date of collection. The question that arises when the procedure is usurped is “what motivated the usurpation in the first instance?”
Stakeholders are therefore advised to follow due process in making requests to avoid disappointment. In as much the voters roll is a public document, the Legislature was not blind to the fact that it contains people’s confidential information which is security related. It is unlawful for any stakeholder to without prior written consent of the Commission to make use of the information therein for any purpose unconnected with an election. The publication of voter’s sensitive information in social and other media circles as was happening is an offense punishable by law. The Commission will publish its own voters roll analysis in due course for public information.
The Commission also wishes to clear the air on allegations made regarding the creation of additional polling stations. For the record, section 22A of the Electoral Act gives power to the Commission to establish additional polling stations to serve a polling station area in cases where the threshold of voters exceeds the number set by the Commission as manageable for administration purposes. For instance, the current maximum threshold of voters per polling station is 1000. There are situations or areas where voters at a particular polling station exceed this set threshold and the law empowers the Commission to create other polling points within the same polling station for ease of administering the vote.
For instance, if voters who vote at Chiradza primary school which is designated as a polling station for the Chiradza polling area are 2100, the Commission can prepare three voters rolls of 700 voters each and establish 3polling points at the school for ease of administering the poll. The Commission consults and educates the affected for them not to be inconvenienced on polling day.
Further, section 51 of the same Act grants the Commission the prerogative to determine the number of polling stations it considers necessary for polling purposes though it can receive representations from stakeholders.
In conclusion, let me also take this opportunity to advise all our stakeholders that elections are not a war. We are all nation builders at the end of the day. Denigrating one another or scoring cheap political points against one another does not make us great. We owe all that we do today to future generations and it is therefore important for us to exhibit good leadership in all we do and to promote peaceful co-existence so that our offspring learn well from us.