2023 Harmonised Elections: What We Need to Know
Voter Mobilisation and Registration: Numbers Don't Lie
By Inatious Sadziwa
AN effective democratic system needs regular, inclusive, transparent, and credible elections. It is against this backdrop that I seek to expound on the voter registration question, as it is one of the major prerequisites that satisfies electoral integrity and credibility. Voter registration is the requirement for citizens and residents to check in with the central registry specifically for purposes of being allowed to vote. In Zimbabwe, voter registration is espoused by Section 67 of the constitution under individual political rights as read with Section 17A of the Electoral Act. Voter mobilization is the effort that a party, candidate, or organisation makes to inform and assist potential voters and persuade them to register and vote. In electoral politics, it is the numbers obtained from votes that determine who occupies local municipalities, Parliament, or the State House. In other words, voters are the oxygen that political organisations need for their existence and survival.
Procedures for voter registration
Voter registration procedures should be clearly stipulated by law. In Zimbabwe, Section 17 of the Electoral Act deal with voter registration and it is very express in what is required by citizens in order to qualify for voter registration. One is required to produce a national identification card or Valid passport to register as a voter. Proof of residence is another requirement but this has since been relaxed as many potential voters were facing challenges in acquiring these. The voter register does not need to include personal data other than that which is required to identify a voter and establish eligibility. Any requirement for additional information such as ethnicity, race or religion, creates scope for discrimination.
Topography of voter registration in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has a population of 17,2 million according to the 2022 Population and Housing census conducted by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency. The rural population is around 68% while the urban population stands at around 32%. The voter/adult population stands at 8 052m that is to say this is the eligible or potential voters who are eligible to vote in a plebiscite. The total number of registered voters as of 1 June, 2022 was around 5 804 000 amounting to 72% of the total adult population. This means that more than 2,3 million people are not registered to vote. This is a fertile ground for political parties to persuade and solicit for votes. Women contribute 53.82% of total registrants while their male counterparts occupy 46.18%. Harare province has the highest number of registered voters at 952 520 against a potential of voter registrants of 1 448 million giving a voting per centum of 67.27. Matebelend South has both the lowest population and voting population of 389 947 and 267 308 respectively giving a voting per centum of 67%. Midlands province has the highest voting percent of 81.4%. The total per centum of voter registrants stands at 72%. Interestingly the rural voter per centum is a staggering 67.5% compared to 32.5 urban voter registrants. This is however greatly affected by rural-to-urban migration. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has 69 administrative offices against 210 constituencies meaning that on average three constituencies are served by one administrative office.
Challenges to voter registration
As highlighted above, there are bottlenecks and limitations which militate against effective voter registration. Administratively, 69 centres are not sufficient to cater for 210 potential voters who are located in constituencies where there are no voter registration centres tend to miss the opportunity to register thus infringing on their fundamental democratic right.The Registrar’s Office is another important player in voter registration as it is the office tasked with issuing national identification documents which are a requirement during elections. Since 2020 the office has been facing capacity problems thereby leaving a great number of potential voters in the cold. In 2021, Zimrights reported that over two million youths were without national IDs. Another challenge sighted is lack of ignorance and lack of knowledge in political issues. This can be attributed to poor or no civic awareness especially in politically polarized communities. Just recently, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission conducted a third voter registration blitz to the tune of 130 billion Zimbabwean dollars or loosely translating to US$13 million. All together, in total, these blitz exercises have gobbled up a whooping U$45 million since 2021 according to Zec. Mind you, the voter registration blitz is just but a miniature component of voter registration. The whole voter registration process is a very costly programme that requires a lot of resources.
The voters’ roll and public _confidence_
It is important that the public has confidence in the accuracy of the voter register. The officials must ensure that the preliminary and final voter registers are published, and the copies are available for public inspection to allow checks for inaccuracies and omissions. Civil society organizations may also audit the voter register. Where there are strong allegations or evidence of exclusions, inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the voter register, the authorities should take constructive and transparent steps to improve the quality.
Voter registration methods
Active registration: This can be also voter- initiated registration. It requires individual registrants to apply for inclusion in the voter register.
Passive registration: Also called State-initiated or automatic registration. It requires State authorities to compile the voter register without the need for individuals to apply.
Conditions for voter registration
Citizenship is a condition for voting. In good democratic practices, all citizens whether by birth, decent, dual holders and those acquired through naturalization must be afforded the right to vote
The legal age of voting does not necessarily have to coincide with the age of civil majority, but the attainment of age of majority. In Zimbabwe the legal age of majority is 18 years and this is the voting age. One can attain the age of civil majority and obtained a national Identity Card but will still have to attain the legal age of majority to be able to qualify for voting.
Prisoners’ right to vote
In many countries, Zimbabwe included, persons serving a prison sentence are deprived of their right to vote. This exclusion can be de jure, based in the domestic legislation, but can be de facto, resulting from the absence of a specific procedure permitting people in detention to vote. International human rights bodies have however condemned the deprivation of the right to vote to anyone sentenced to a prison term.
Voter information and education activities are necessary to ensure that all eligible citizens are aware of their rights and understand how to exercise them. They range from broad issues on governance and political party programs (civic education) to informing citizens where, when, and how they can actually vote (voter information). A lack of information ( for example: where to vote, with which ID documents, how to mark a ballot validly, etc) can result in voters being unable to exercise their rights.
Responsibility for impartial voter education lies with the Electoral Management Boards (EMBs), as state bodies, frequently in conjunction with civil society and the media. Voters should also be aware of the significance of elections, the type of election taking place, the identities of candidates and political parties and the way in which their choices should be indicated on the ballot. EMBs have a responsibility to ensure this information is provided without discrimination ahead of election day and make adequate information available in polling stations on election day.
Voter registration according to law is a continuous exercise that only closes a few days after the proclamation of the next election date by the head of State. Political parties had more than 230 weeks from the last election of July 31, 2018 to register first-time voters. This is more telling if one is to do simple math to ascertain the potential number of registered voters if political parties had actually employed serious voter registration mechanisms and strategies in place. Just to give you some context, from September 1, 2018, to date there are 236 weeks and if all political parties from 210 constituencies had managed to register just 50 first-time voters every week, the figure will be a whopping 2 478 000 voters. If we break it down to 1958 wards, it only requires five voter registrants every week to obtain an accumulated 2,300 000 voters. At constituency level the figure will be around 12 000 voters and checking with latest figures no constituency has ever managed even a quarter of that figure. Catering for only 5 people at the ward level only requires between $20- $50 depending on the vicinity of the Constituency to the voter registration centre. This will advantage political parties that directly assist registrants as this builds a relationship and also enable political parties to make correct predictions and gauge their strengths and weakness. Being in constant touch with the electorate also fights the scourge of voter apathy.
On the other hand, civil society as a very important stakeholder in elections must also complement ZEC in voter mobilization. Of late we have noticed a decline in civic activities owing to funding constraints and government censure. The relationship between civil society and government has reached catastrophic levels and the introduction of the Private Voluntary Organization bill which now awaits the signature of the President to become law is the final straw that broke the camel’s back.
As highlighted above,the voter-initiated registration model we are currently using has enormous bottlenecks that has affected citizens (mostly youths) participation in elections. In light of these challenges, it is this proposed that;
1) We abolish the Active Registration or the voter-initiated method and adopt the Passive registration model or automatic registration. In other words, the civil registration processes must be synchronized. That is to say when one applies or is issued with a national identification card they automatically become a registered voter. This will ensure active participation of all citizens in electoral processes, it will also reduce government expenditure in voter registration programs and by and large fight against the scourge of voter apathy.
2)The voter registration centres must be decentralized to the constituency level so that registration is easily accessible. The current ZEC administrative offices must be increased to 210 so that every constituency has a voter registration centre. This is however expensive thus adopting the Passive registration
the most ideal model.
Political parties must employ robust voter registration strategies to lure as many supporters to enhance their chances of winning. The current voter registration statistics point to a gloomy election which can lead to voter apathy. Proper structures for voter mobilization and registration steeped in grassroots and organic campaign models complemented by sufficient funding is the panacea to effective mobilization and registration of voters. Fatigue and lack of interest especially with young voters is mainly as a result of a breakdown of social contract between political organization and the electorate. Incumbent elected office bearers must also represent their communities with distinction and probity. This serves as a wakeup call to political parties to be wary of people who represent them to the electorate.
Ignatious G Sadziwa, Executive Director@ Zimbabwe Election advocacy Trust.He is a Social Democrat and an Election Expert. He can be contacted@ Mobile/Whatsapp +263772706621
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