Election Watch 5-2017

ELECTION WATCH 5/2017

[31st July 2017]

New Regulations for Voter Registration – Part 1

New Electoral (Voter Registration) Regulations, 2017, were gazetted in Statutory Instrument [SI] 85/2017, available on the Veritas website [link], on Friday 21st July 2017 and came into force on the same day.  The regulations were made by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] in terms of the Electoral Act.   What they do is to:

·        repeal and replace the existing voter registration regulations of 2013 [SI 69/2013] [link] [which we shall refer to as the “repealed regulations” from here onwards.]

·        repeal and replace the prescribed fees for voter rolls, section 15 of the Electoral Regulations of 2005 [link]

Note there is very little reference to biometric voter registration [BVR].  The lack of detail on BVR in these regulations has fuelled fears that ZEC is not ready to embark on biometric registration and that these regulations are purposefully vague indicating ZEC is hedging it bets and could apply them in an election using the old voters roll.  But it could be just that ZEC intends to publish further regulations on the exact details of how the biometric voter registration will be done.  But ZEC should have stated this clearly before these regulations were promulgated – to avoid false expectations and subsequent confusion.

Section 1 of the regulation specifies the title of the regulations; section 2 contains definitions of terms; section 3 lists the forms to be used for voter registration which are set out in full in the Schedule to the regulations [see link above].                 

Proof of Identity and Citizenship

Section 4 of the regulations lists three documents as acceptable proof of identity and citizenship as long as the document used “legibly shows that the claimant is a citizen of Zimbabwe of or over the age of eighteen years”

·        a national identity document issued in terms of the National Registration Act [metal or plastic ID card];

·        a “waiting pass” issued in terms of the National Registration Act which includes a photograph of the bearer;

  • a valid Zimbabwean passport [i.e. an unexpired one];  

An important fact to stress is that the ID must “legibly show that the claimant is a citizen of Zimbabwe”.  ZEC has stated in a recent press release that it will not accept IDs marked ALIEN as proof of citizenship.  The same will obviously apply to IDs marked NCR [Non-Citizen Resident].  This is going to cause a problem to the many Zimbabweans who are by law entitled to call themselves Zimbabwe citizens and in terms of the Constitution are entitled to vote if 18 or over, but still have these old IDs.  In a further Election Watch we shall outline ZEC’s press release on this subject and its advice on how to get IDs changed by the Registrar-General, but the many problems involved may result in disenfranchising many who are entitled to vote and should be able to do so.

Proof of Residence

Section 5(1) of the regulations lists 11 documents that constitute proof of a person’s residence for purposes of voter registration [these documents are the “residence documents” defined in section 2]—

·        title deeds or a certificate of occupation;

·        a lodgers permit issued by the relevant local authority;

·        rates, water, electricity, telephone or credit store statements on which is shown the claimant's name and physical address;

·        a statement from the landlord, parent or friend of the claimant confirming that the claimant resides at the stated place of residence accompanied by any of the documents in paragraph (a), (b) or(c) in the name of the landlord, parent, friend or such other person at whose residence the claimant resides;

·        a statement confirming that the claimant resides at the stated place of residence made by the head of a school, hospital or other public institution where the claimant resides;

·        a statement confirming that the claimant resides at the stated place of residence made by or on behalf of the person in whose name a mining location is registered in the area where the claimant resides;

·        statement by the claimant's employer confirming his or her address;

·        a confirmation letter by the relevant councillor, village head, headman or Chief confirming that the claimant resides in the ward he or she claims to reside in;

·        a confirmation letter by farm owner or resettlement officer confirming that the claimant resides in the ward he or she claims to reside in;

·        an offer letter proving that the claimant is in lawful occupation of the land to which the offer letter relates;

·        a hospital bill or a clinic or hospital card or an envelope with post office markings reflecting the claimant's address.

The list is largely the same as the list in the repealed regulations.  But there are errors that could lead to confusion. For instance, there are two items requiring confirmation letter confirming a claimant’s residence “in the ward in which the claimant claims to reside” when what is needed for registration is the claimant’s residential address [the claim form, Form VR.1 in the Schedule, correctly requires the claimant’s residential address; the relevant polling station area, ward area and constituency area will all be dictated by the residential address].

Residence Affidavit as Alternative to Residence Document

Section 5(2), provides an alternative to those with difficulty producing proof of residence.  It requires a voter registration officer to accept a “residence affidavit” sworn or affirmed by the claimant in two cases—

·        If the residence document produced is illegible or if there is any reasonable doubt as to its authenticity or validity;

·        If the claimant says that he or she is unable to obtain any residence document.

The form VR.9 to be used for a residence affidavit is set out in the Schedule to the regulations.

Section 5(3) creates a new offence of making a false statement in a residence affidavit and states that this is punishable by a level 10 fine [up to $700 ] or up to one year’s imprisonment or both. 

This is totally unnecessary provision—

1. the new offence is not recognised in Form VR.9.  Instead,

2. Form VR.9  includes an acknowledgement that the maker of the affidavit has been informed, and realises, that declaring false information in the affidavit is an offence in terms of section 10 of the Justices of the Peace and Commissioners of Oaths Act punishable by “imprisonment for the offence of perjury”.  Perjury is also punishable by a fine; the penalty is a level 10 fine or 5 years’ imprisonment or both [Criminal Law Code, section 183]

Creation of a new and unnecessary offence is an example of bad law-making.  All this provision does is add to confusion in the mind of the voter.

Whole section on proof of residence is unnecessarily complicated

It would have been much better and far less confusing if ZEC had settled for a simple declaration of residence which would, of course, have been subject to the existing sanction of prosecution for the offence of making a false statement of fact in any claim for registration, an offence which under section 37 of the Electoral Act is punishable by a fine not exceeding level 14 [$5 000] or up to two years’ imprisonment or both.

Registration Offices and Centres

Section 6 states that voters can register in every provincial or district office [section 19(4) of the Electoral Act says this already] and that in addition ZEC may set up mobile registration centres.

Procedure for Registration

Section 7   A person wishing to vote needs to prove his identity, citizenship, age and place of residence to the voter registration officer at the registration centre.  If a voter registration officer determines that the claimant, i.e. person wishing to register, is qualified for registration as a voter he or she shall register the claimant by—

“(a)   filing a completed VR [Voter Registration] Form; and

(b)   taking a passport size photograph of the claimant; and

(c)   taking the fingerprints of the claimant (except in cases where by reason of physical injury or illness this is not possible);

(d)   capturing such other additional biometric features of the claimant as the Commission may, from time to time, determine by notice in the Gazette.”

Note:  These are the only references to biometric registration apart from the definition of “biometric features” in section 2.  ZEC has not to date gazetted any determination/s of additional biometric features.

To be continued in Part 2

 

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