ELECTION Resource Centre executive director Babra Ontibile Bhebe says the electoral watchdog has resolved to write to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to reveal the list of all those who applied for postal voting as it seeks clarity on how the process was conducted.
In 2018 there were 7 200 postal voters, but this year the number jumped by over 100% to 17 483, according to statistics released by Zec early this month. There have also been concerns that police officers who applied for postal ballots this week voted in camps under the watchful eyes of their superiors.
The voting was conducted in the absence of observers from opposition parties or electoral monitors. In an interview with The NewsHawks on Thursday, Bhebe said according to section 74 of the Electoral Act, Zec is required to reveal information on postal voting including a list of those who applied.
“Unfortunately, Zec has not published lists as to who applied for postal vote. The ERC will engage the commission on a list of those who have applied for postal vote,” she said.
“Once someone’s application for postal ballot is approved, Zec will send postal votes to the applicant.
“The voter must then vote in secret, place the ballot papers into the ballot paper envelope then place ballot envelope into cover envelope and send their votes back to the commission. “There is no provision that requires en mass postal voting, the envisaged process must be done individually. The process must be done in secret to preserve the secrecy of the vote,” she explained.
Bhebe said it is important for her organisation to engage Zec over the postal votes.
“This will allow us to know the number of postal votes approved for transparency purposes. The ERC has been monitoring all electoral processes including postal voting. Section 74 of the Electoral Act permits members of the public to inspect the list of all postal ballot papers issued and we will make efforts to do the inspection,” she said.
Postal voting occurs when ballot papers are distributed to electors and typically returned by post, in contrast to voters casting their ballots in person at a polling station or contonement area such as police stations as happened this week.
In some developed countries, postal voting is done electronically via an electronic voting system. In Zimbabwe it typically applies to state security agents. Despite concerns over the sharp increase of postal voters this year, Bhebe said Zec could be given the benefit of the doubt due to the increase in the number of voters.
“The increase in the number of postal votes potentially gives an indication on the number of security personnel who will be deployed on Election day.
“Also the voter population has increased and this makes it necessary to deploy more security to maintain peace and order. We also have an additional 2000 polling stations and this means an increased number of security personnel to be deployed in the 2023 elections compared to the previous 2018 election,” she said.
In a media statement on Tuesday, Zec deputy chairperson and current spokesperson Rodney Simukai Kiwa said postal voting cannot be monitored.
“Postal votes are not subject to monitoring. So, the opposition or whoever might want to monitor, it’s not possible. The law is very clear on that. How can you deploy observers on postal votes, because the postal ballots are dispatched in various places, so operationally, physically, it’s not possible,” he said.
In June, officers stationed at Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services facilities as well as police officers were forced to all apply for postal voting by their superiors.
The order was supposed to target only those who would be on duty on polling day as prescribed by law. The directive for the prisons officials to apply for postal voting was dictated to them through a memorandum seen by The NewsHawks which recalled those on leave or seconded elsewhere to physically go and register for postal voting at their respective stations.
Police officers were given similar orders through their officers-in-charge.
“Notice, all officers station at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison to report on duty. Date. 04 July 2023. Time. 0715hrs. NB Including all officers on study leave, vacc leave, occasional, compassionate, attachment, shift off, secondment etc,” read a memo dispatched to Chikurubi Prison.
Sources close to the process said officers at the Prisons and Correctional Services facilities and police stations were not given an option to choose against the instruction on the basis of whether they would be deployed away from their polling stations or not.
“They asked all officers to bring photocopy of national IDs last Friday and yesterday they ordered every officer off and on leave to report to the station today the 4th of July to which they gave us postal ballot application forms and instructed them to fill in and sign,” revealed the source.
As happened this week, in the 2018 elections and even before that, there were reports of police officers and prison officials casting their postal votes under the watchful eyes of their superiors.
The senior officers also guard against any votes cast for the opposition as the postal voting would happen in cantonment areas where they have tight control and are feared by the rank and file.
In terms of section 72 of the Electoral Act, the only people who can vote by post are registered voters who, on polling day, will be unable to vote at their polling station because: “They will be on duty as members of a disciplined force [i.e. police officers, prison officers or members of the Defence Forces] or as electoral officers [i.e. employees of Zec on electoral duty or persons seconded to Zec to perform electoral duties]
“They will be outside Zimbabwe in the service of the government [normally as diplomatic or consular officials] or because they are married to such an official.”
So only government employees and employees of Zec, and persons who are seconded to Zec for electoral duties are entitled to vote by post.
Under section 73 of the Act, applications for postal votes are made to Zec’s chief elections officer on a prescribed form.
They have to be made by the voters themselves which has not happened in the latest development as the applications were processed by the superiors of the security agents.
If Zec is satisfied that a person who has applied for a postal vote is entitled to one, the chief elections officer must send them a postal ballot for each election plus envelopes marked with the applicant’s name, voter registration number and the polling station on whose roll the applicant is registered. He must also take two further steps: “he/she must enter the applicant’s name on a numbered list which is kept open for public inspection for the whole electoral period, and “He/she must put a line through the appli cant’s name on the voters’ roll prepared for the applicant’s polling station, with an annotation showing that the applicant has been issued a postal ballot paper.” These steps are laid down in section 74 of the Electoral Act.
If they are followed, they will prevent, or at least discourage, double voting by people who have voted by post. Postal voters vote by filling in their ballot papers in the same way as voters at polling stations – by putting an X opposite the candidates of their choice.
They must then seal the ballot papers into their envelopes and have them sent back to Zec at least 14 days before polling in the election, to give Zec time to have them distributed to polling stations. This is laid down in sections 75 and 76 of the Electoral Act.
This did not happen as the police officers this week voted in their camps, which is a violation of the law. Applications for postal votes must be sent to Zec no later than two weeks after nomination day [section 73(2)(c) of the Electoral Act].
However, Zec last month gazetted Statutory Instrument 140, which amended section 75(1) (d) of the Electoral Act to allow the chief elections officer to receive postal votes not later than three days of the voting day instead of 14 days.
This again dragged the election management body to the centre of controversy.