Voters’ roll battle escalates
THE battle for the release of the electronic voters’ roll has escalated amid revelations by Harare North MP Allan Norman Markham that he has instructed his lawyers to appeal Tuesday’s High Court ruling upholding the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s strange refusal to avail the document.
The opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change and independent electoral watchdogs are still insisting on having the electronic voters’ roll from Zec in order for them to audit it before the elections. Zec has however refused to release the roll.
On Tuesday this week, High Court judge Justice Never Katiyo threw out Markham’s application for an order to force Zec to release the electronic voters’ roll. The judge cited concerns that the vote register could be tampered with.
“The applicant approached the court prematurely before exhausting the available remedies. Also the Electoral Act mandates Zec to safeguard the electronic voters’ roll. To say 58 days wait (for a printed version) is unreasonable period cannot be understood.
“The parties were still engaging up to the time the application was launched thereby violating the doctrine for ripeness.
“Further the delimitation report is already finalised so this issue has been overtaken by events,” ruled the judge.
However, Markham on Thursday told The NewsHawks that he strongly disagrees with the judge and will use his constitutional right to appeal the judgement at the Supreme Court.
“I disagree with the court’s reasoning that we approached it prematurely. Once Zec refused to provide the electronic roll and/or indicate when it was going to do so, we were entitled to seek redress from the courts,” he said.
“I disagree with the court that a period of 145 days which has lapsed since my request is a reasonable time to keep a citizen waiting for a roll that is already available.
“The very failure by Zec on the date of the request to indicate when it was to provide the voters’ roll in electronic form was unreasonable and amounted to a refusal to give me the roll which should have moved the court to order its provision,” he said.
The MP also said he disagreed with the judge’s findings that tweets by Team Pachedu proved that the entity had tampered with the voters’ roll which made it unsafe for it to be released by
Zec to him in electronic format.
“These tweets were irrelevant and should not have been considered as they came after my demand, some even came after I had already filed the application,” he said.
“If a genuine case of alteration and tampering had occurred, Zec would have shown proof of their police report and the alleged perpetrators would have been facing prosecution.
“I have instructed my lawyers to file an appeal and hope to get the necessary redress from the superior court,” said the MP.
After analysing the voters’ roll as at 1 February 2022, the MP said he noted a number of material breaches of the Electoral Act, and a direct failure by Zec to fulfil its obligations regarding the vote register.
On 27 July 2022, through his legal practitioners, Markham wrote a detailed letter to Zec outlining these breaches and demanding they rectify them. Zec responded on 19 August 2022, saying it was in the process of producing an updated voters’ roll which would take into account some of the queries he had raised and implored that he wait for the new roll to establish whether there was still a need to pursue the queries.
On 9 October 2022, Markham made a follow up, and was on 20 October advised that the roll was ready. However, Zec advised that it could, within 30 days of the payment of the
US$187 000 fee, only provide him with a hard copy of the consolidated national voters’ roll.
It could not provide him with an electronic roll as it was “currently working on enhancing the security of the electronic voters’ roll”. It undertook to avail the electronic roll on a platform at a date to be advised.
The MP disagreed with Zec’s proposal to delay the provision of the voters’ roll in electronic form for an open-ended period.
This was because the Electoral Act gives citizens a choice to get the voters’ roll either in hard copy or electronic form and Zec is obliged to provide it in the requested format.
He felt the electronic voters’ roll of his choice should have been provided in searchable and analysable form within reasonable time.
Markham explained to The NewsHawks why he had to go to court under the circumstances.
“My choice to get the voters’ roll in an electronic form was instructed by, among other things, the fact that the electronic roll is easy to analyse and review compared to the bulky hard copy (more than 187 000 pages) and that it costs an affordable US$200 as opposed to the expensive and prohibitive US$187 000,” he said.
“A lot of money is spent on the preparation of the voters’ roll. Citizens must have an opportunity to satisfy themselves that it has integrity. With a total of over 185 000 pages containing more than 35 million words, no person can carry out an integrity analysis of a physical copy even if they dedicate a decade of their lives to it, let alone compare it with earlier versions.
“The provision of an electronic copy is not only financially cheaper, but it is the best chance at an effective search and analysis of this important document.
“At the time of my request, apart from the need to follow up on the original queries, there was an urgent need on my part to review and analyse the voters’ roll for the purpose of contribution to the public consultations regarding delimitation which was ongoing.”
He said the failure by Zec to indicate a time within which the electronic roll would be provided was unreasonable and tantamount to a refusal.
“I therefore, on the 2nd of November 2022, gave Zec an ultimatum that they either provide me with an electronic voters’ roll within seven (7) days, or I will approach the court. They did not respond to my letter. I accordingly instituted the application on 23rd November 2022,” he said.