Why Zimbabwe needs and is ripe for Biometric Voter Registration

Abstract

The lack of an efficient, trusted and credible voters’ roll has given rise to the arguments that the registration system has compromised Zimbabwe’s electoral processes therefore resulting in the electoral commission shifting to biometric voter registration in an effort to curb claims of a bloated roll, multiple voting claims and do away with the manual system. The paper assumes the adoption of biometric voter registration by Zimbabwe will not however solve the issues of election related violence and intimidation nor does it do away with the fear factor associated with Zimbabwe’s elections. Biometrics improve on credibility and reliability as well as elimination of duplication caused by multiple registration or human error during data capturing. A set of recommendations are made at the end of the discussion.

Introduction

Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) is the process by which a person’s unique physical and other traits are detected and recorded by an electronic device or system as a means of confirming identity. The biometric voting system ensures integrity and reliability of gathered information.

Voter Registration system in Zimbabwe

Since independence Zimbabwe has been using the manual paper based system to register voters. An individual presents his/her national identification card on both registration and polling day. Verification of an individual is measured against the said documents. The current registration system measured against BVR reflects inaccuracies, dawdling and unreliable thus it compromises the credibility and transparency factor in elections. Election stakeholders since the formation of a vibrant opposition party in Zimbabwe have allayed claims that the current system can easily be manipulated. Biometric voter registration will mark a departure from the manual registration and voters’ rolls marked by limited details of a voter which could easily be duplicated and prone to manipulation.  The change could ultimately boost voter confidence in the system as BVR is easy to analyse and audit, prevents duplicate registration, and facilitates interoperability between government agencies for database consolidation and maintenance and ensures quick and precise biometric voting identification.

BVR to replace the manual system

In the wake of disputed election results emanating from among others a “sham voters roll”ZEC must introduce the Biometric Voter Registration System (BVR) to improve on the credibility and reliability of the roll. Some of the advantages of BVR System include an efficient manner of capturing of voter’s records in addition polling officials have multiple ways of identifying voters e.g. facial features against the picture on the roll. The Biometric Voter Registration System (BVR) has already been used successfully in other SADC countries for example Tanzania, Ghana West Africa and Brazil to name but a few. For those countries which have successfully utilized technology, the benefits are clear. At the registration level, the use of technology bolsters authenticity, hence reducing cases of double registration and potential for manipulation and fraud. As BVR utilizes ICTs, CSO’s and party agents can reap considerable benefits if their monitoring muscle is enhanced.

Is BVR the answer to Zimbabwe`s electoral ills

It is on record in Zimbabwe, in the region and the world that Zimbabwean elections are pigeon-holed by violence and intimidation not to mention that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is not trusted by the electorate and stakeholders on the basis that its autonomy is compromised. It is essential to note that BVR does not instill confidence in the electorate to trust the commission nor does it address the issue of election related violence and intimidation- the Fear Factor. In as much as the election is nigh, the question that remains is the electorate in rural areas adequately educated on BVR process and this has remained the tuff of ZEC alone with the government failing over years to timeously release resources to commissions especially those that support democratic processes?

Conclusion

In light of the many challenges that Zimbabwe has encountered in its quest to conduct a free, fair and credible election, it is prudent to conclude that Zimbabwe is ripe for BVR  despite it not being the only solution tosolve all of Zimbabwe`s election related insufficiencies.

Recommendations

  • The government interventions in supporting the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) should maintain the independence of ZEC
  • Implementation of BVR should be preceded by comprehensive, accurate and dynamic voter education
  • The ZEC should make sure that voter registration offers opportunities to ALL citizens thereby enhancing public confidence in the election process.
  • Voters and stakeholders should have access to the voter roll prior to Election Day to check that their information is correctly captured, and they should be able to challenge any inaccuracies through a timely process.
  • Copies of the voter register should be provided to ALL political parties and candidates so they can verify that their supporters are included and use the information to conduct their campaigns.
  • Providing the voters roll in electronic format to enable electronic search of data in line with data protection legislation could also be considered.
  • Civil society groups are encouraged to assess the accuracy of the voter roll using field and computer tests and present their findings to the public.

Paper done by:

Bobosibunu Solomon:is an MSc International Affairs Student with Midlands State University specializing in elections, citizen participation and global governance. Contacted through email bobosibunus@gmail.com

Mukoko Kudzanai: is a research assistant specializing in youth and women engagement on democracy and governance issues. Can be contacted through kuemukoko@gmail.com

 

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