Reinstating postal voting will erode the gains of the new constitution

ZESN welcomes the government’s efforts to align the laws to the new constitution. The new constitution espouses values of transparency, accountability and responsiveness. In the same vein, the new constitution states that whatever the electoral system used it should be simple, accurate, verifiable, secure and transparent. ZESN is concerned with the proposal to reinstate the postal vote and scrap special voting.

This proposal is clearly against the spirit and letter of transparency which was greatly promoted through the special vote. ZESN acknowledges the logistical problems faced during the special vote of 2013 which could be resolved by advance planning and the timely conduct of the election all of which were absent during the 2013 special vote which was done hurriedly as all other processes. In addition, the special vote was open to observation which enhanced transparency.

ZESN notes that the logistical problems encountered during the casting of the special vote can be resolved if the commission is given adequate resources and time to prepare for the vote. It is too early to condemn the special vote given that it was the first time for the commission to conduct the vote and the five year electoral cycle provides the commission with enough time to review, learn and improve the process. The benefits of special vote are significant including:

• It provides access to the polls for officials who would not be able to vote on election day

• The secrecy of the vote is protected as voters use the security of the polling of the polling station

• The process is transparent as the commission releases numbers of people who have applied, how many have been approved and lastly how many voted

• The process is open to observation as observers are accredited and could observe the process from the application, voting, and the sorting of votes after the polls.

• The processes enhances confidence in the genuineness of the vote for those who used special vote as the process is open and transparency.

These benefits cannot be sacrificed on the basis of logistical problems which can be resolved with more time and resources. Reinstatement of the postal vote will result in the disenfranchisement of electoral staff on duty that may not be able to vote on the set Election Day. The postal vote is limited to only those on government duty outside the country. Expanding postal voting will create more accountability and transparency problems. The security of the ballot and the secrecy of the vote will be at stake if postal vote is reinstated.

In order to make it more manageable, the special vote can be limited to presidential only until the system can take more complex elections such as the local government and House of Assembly. ZESN contends that reinstating the postal voting is duplicity to the people of Zimbabwe who voted for transparency and accountability. In Zimbabwe, concerns about postal voting have been related to the secrecy of the vote as people cast their votes outside the security of a polling station, and whether voters were able to cast their vote privately free from coercion.

ZESN welcomes decentralisation of local observers’ accreditation process to the provincial level. However, ZESN remains concerned by the different accreditation system in place for local observers and party agents as they work to protect the vote. While party agents do not apply but submit lists, there is no reason to make it difficult for observers by demanding accreditation which in the 2013 election resulted in logistical problems when lists did not get to the provinces on time. ZESN calls for further simplification and decentralisation of the accreditation process to the district levels as well as early accreditation.

In conclusion, in countries where there is mistrust in the electoral process among stakeholders, postal votes and special votes present problems hence the need for processes that build trust and confidence in the electoral process. ZESN calls upon the government to provide resources to the electoral commission timeously to enhance preparedness. The government needs to involve all stakeholders at all stages in the constitutional and legislative alignment process.

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