ELECTION WATCH 6/2017
[31st July 2017]
New Regulations for Voter Registration – Part 2
This bulletin continues Election Watch 5’s analysis of the new voter registration regulations, SI 85/2017 [link].
Maintenance of Order in Registration Centres
Section 8 specifies that maintenance of order in registration centres is the responsibility of the voter registration officers and they can also regulate the number of voters admitted at a time to the registration centre premises. Persons disobeying instructions given will be liable to a fine not exceeding level [$700] of imprisonment of up to a year, or both. There is, however, a proviso that these powers should not be used to hinder a person from registering to vote.
Compilation of Voters Rolls
Section 9 of the regulations makes the Chief Elections Officer responsible for compiling a voters roll for each “polling area”. Presumably ward rolls will be amalgamations of polling area rolls and constituency rolls will be compiled from ward rolls.
A voters roll must show, for each voter—
· the voter’s first and last names, date of birth, date of birth, sex and national registration number
· the place where the voter ordinarily resides
· the voter’s photograph [this is something new].
Comment on “first and last names”. This means two names only. But section 7(2) of the regulations envisages the names appearing on the roll will be the names on the identity document, which may list two or more forenames, and consistent with that the VR forms call for “SURNAME (as per ID)” and “FORENAME/S (as per ID)”.
The inconsistency is confusing and needs to be corrected. Previous rolls have, appropriately, reflected all names.
Public Inspection of Voters Rolls
Section 10(1) of the regulations states that voters rolls are open to inspection by members of the public. It was not necessary to include this as the matter is adequately covered by the Electoral Act. According to section 21(1) of the Act “every voters roll is a public document and open to inspection by the public, free of charge, during ordinary office hours at the office of ZEC where it is kept.” Section 21(2) of the Act goes on to say that a person inspecting the voters roll for a constituency may make any written notes of anything contained therein. The regulations do not mention this but the Electoral Act prevails.
What the Electoral Act does not state is at which offices particular rolls must be kept, but the regulations fail to make good this omission.
Public’s Right to Copies of Voters Rolls and Electoral Area Maps
The regulations are unlawfully restrictive on provision of copies of voters rolls
Section 12(1) of the regulations restricts the supply of copies to “interested persons” who must apply to the Chief Elections Officer and pay the appropriate fees. BUT this restriction is contrary to the Electoral Act, section 24(3) of which provides that the Commission shall, i.e., must, within a reasonable period of time provide “any person who requests it, and who pays the prescribed fee, with a copy of any ward or constituency voters roll, either in printed or in electronic form as the person may request”. The regulations cannot validly restrict the right to copies to “interested parties” when the Act gives the right to any person who requests a copy. All the regulations need do is prescribe the fee.
The prescribed fees for copies of rolls
Section 12(2) of the regulations specify the fees as follows—
· electronic copies of rolls are $1 for a polling station, $2 for a ward, $10 for a constituency and $20 for the national roll.
· Hard monochrome copies of the same rolls are at a rate of 10 cents per page.
These fees are significantly lower than the previous fees and therefore an improvement on the previous situation. They comply with the requirement in section 21(4) of the Act that the fees fixed must not exceed the reasonable cost of providing the roll concerned.
Copies of constituency, ward and polling area maps
Section 12(3) and (4) of the regulations provide that the Chief Elections Officer must, on application by an “interested person” and payment of the prescribed fee, supply an electronic copy of the map of a polling area [$1], ward [$2] or constituency [$10], “if the copy is available”. There is no provision for supplying hard copies of maps.
What is questionable, is that the applications for copies of rolls and maps must be to the Chief Elections Officer. Does this mean that copies of all rolls and maps will only be available from the Chief Elections Officer, at ZEC headquarters in Harare? And does it also mean that all rolls – and maps – will only be available for inspection at ZEC HQ in Harare? If so, there are grounds for challenging these provisions on the ground of sheer unreasonableness.
This needs to be clarified
1. At the moment, these regulations only affect persons wishing to register as voters for the first time. Voters who are already registered on a roll are not allowed to apply for re-registration unless and until the President publishes a proclamation in the Government Gazette ordering a new registration of voters in terms of section 36A of the Electoral Act. That has not yet happened, but ZEC is on record as saying that the coming voter registration exercise will be for a completely new voter registration using BVR. So a proclamation in terms of section 36A can be expected, and it will have to fix the starting date and end date of the period during which re-registration will take place. And section 36A(3) will need amending by Act of Parliament if ZEC intends existing voters to comply with all the requirements for new registration [because section 36A(3) exempts some existing voters from the obligation to prove citizenship and place of residence when claiming re-registration].
2. The details on BVR need expanding. The electronic system to be used in collecting the raw data at registration centres and transforming it into voters rolls at a central point needs to be such that there is a reliable electronic record of every stage of the process; this will enable independent auditors to check allegations of interference and manipulation.
3. The regulations are not free of drafting imperfections. For instance—
· The preamble states that the regulations were made by ZEC with the approval of “the Minister” without stating which Minister. This is a departure from established practice for statutory instruments, which requires the Minister to be identified by reference to the Ministry concerned – in this case, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
· In section 5(1) the list of residence documents could have been more carefully prepared. For instance, paragraphs (h) and (j) refer to confirmation letters confirming that the claimant for registration “resides in the ward he or she claims to reside in”, but what needs to be confirmed for purposes of polling area registration is the claimant’s residential address, as stated on Form VR.1.
· There is a general lack of clarity in several sections, and redundancies and inconsistencies with the Electoral Act have been pointed out earlier in this bulletin and in Election Watch 5.