The cost of a copy of the voters’ roll is likely to deter many citizens and other interested stakeholders from scrutinising it ahead of the crucial 2023 harmonised polls.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) last Friday pegged at US$10 an electronic copy of the voters’ roll with data on one polling station voters, US$15 for the ward level voters’ roll, US$50 for the constituency voters’ roll, US$150 for the provincial voters’ roll and US$200 for the national voters’ roll.
The voter’s roll has been the source of conflict in Zimbabwe’s elections with ZEC accused of not only releasing it in time but also manipulating it.
Responding to the gazetted fees, political analyst, Effie Ncube said while making copies of a voters’ roll available to political parties, candidates, and citizens for a nominal fee is standard international practice, ZEC fees were not justified.
“The question that should be asked is whether under the circumstances of deep poverty and hunger and a failing economy are the pegged fees justifiable,” said Ncube.
“I submit that they are not. The cost is too high and will therefore stifle democracy and the ability of citizens to ensure the election is free and fair. A credible voters’ roll is indispensable to the holding of free and fair elections contemplated in the Constitution.
He added: “A rigged voters’ roll will inevitably result in a rigged election. Ensuring maximum access to the voters’ roll will serve to assure citizens that everything is above board and that there is nothing to hide.”
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute principal researcher, Bekezela Gumbo equated the prices of the voters’ roll to “electoral chicanery.”
“The voters’ roll can be sold to cater for administrative costs, but this one is so disproportionate and makes the roll inaccessible to citizens who are paid less than the national voters roll fee,” said Gumbo.
“This is the reincarnation of the Smith monetisation of suffrage. ZEC is trying to prevent scrutiny because they are aware of the hardship of our people so they are sure that many won’t get the money.”
He added: “They are also trying to inhibit the participation of many political parties. Only those who have free funds will enjoy the right.”
Vusumuzi Chirwa, a Bulawayo resident said the gazetted prices of the voters’ roll were both “ridiculous and ludicrous” adding they overwhelmingly compromise the credibility of upcoming elections as they impede its accessibility.
“Ideally the voters’ roll shouldn’t be sold as it should be or is funded by the taxpayers,” he said.
“ZEC should simply publish the voters’ roll in mainstream newspapers so it can be both accessible and available easily. ZEC should also embrace technology by developing a voters’ roll mobile app which is free to download and usable even without data. People will also be able to share the app using apps like Share it and Bluetooth.
He further said: “Lastly the constituency voters’ roll encompassing the wards and polling stations should be made available on PDFs in this way total accessibility and availability of the voters’ roll can be guaranteed.”
Sipho Nyoni, another political analyst said very few citizens would buy the voters’ roll.
“The prices are ridiculous, to say the least in the sense that they are out of the reach of the ordinary man who is already constrained financially and burdened under this Zim economic malaise,” said Nyoni.
“So to think of someone spending US$15, US$50, or US$150 for the voters roll in this situation is unreal. Access to the voters’ roll in any mode whatsoever is every person’s right as it enables them to play a participatory role right from inception in determining the politics of their country.”
He said the cost of the voters’ roll would disenfranchise ordinary people from participating in politics and elections.
“ZEC is out to ensure as few individuals as possible have access to the voters’ roll so as to go on with its shenanigans of manipulating the vote through the voters’ roll,” he added.