By Blessings Mashaya
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has come under fire for changing the positioning of the voting booths for the July 30 harmonised election so that voters cast their ballots facing Zec officials to prevent taking pictures of their voter preferences.
Previously voting booths faced the wall.
Zimbabwe’s leading domestic election monitoring agency, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), cried foul yesterday saying this development violates Section 86 of the Electoral Act and international best practice as it threatens the secrecy of the vote.
Zesn called upon Zec to revisit the decision on the positioning and placement of the booths and put in place mechanisms that ensure that the secrecy of the vote is not compromised.
This comes after Zec chief elections officer, Utoile Silaigwana, said the redesign of the positioning of the ballot booth was meant to bar voters from taking selfie photos with their ballots during elections.
There are also fears the photos could set the stage for vote-buying or voter intimidation that has been reported to be rampant.
Silaigwana said the change in the positioning was meant to stop ballot selfies by voters who could be tempted to show support for favoured candidates through postings on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
But critics said Zec cannot curtail free speech based on a hypothetical danger.
Zesn said if the new set-up of the polling station is maintained, voters will not be guaranteed that their preference is secret as people in the polling station may be able to see their voting choices.
“Zesn’s position is that the previous set-up whereby the voting booths allowed voters to vote in secret must be reinstated,” its said in a statement.
“While Zesn appreciates the reasons provided by Zec in relation to the changes, such as deterring voters from taking photographs and serial numbers of their ballot papers, it is critical to ensure that voting remains secret within the polling stations as well.”
It urged Zec, political parties, civil society organisations (CSOs) and institutions supporting democracy to conduct comprehensive voter education on the secrecy of the vote to deter the intimidation that takes place on election day.
“In addition, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission must closely monitor the political environment in the run up to the election day to deter any voter intimidation that seeks to threaten the secrecy of the vote,” Zesn said, adding in the spirit of transparency Zec should have consulted with contesting political parties, electoral stakeholders before the decision to change the positioning of the booths was made to allay fears and conspiracies around the issue.
“Zesn, therefore, calls upon Zec to take into consideration the concerns raised by electoral stakeholders to enhance trust and confidence in the various electoral processes being undertaken for the 2018 elections,” the statement said. –DailyNews