ZEC wins voters roll case. . . Releasing electronic format compromises security, court rules
Chief Court Reporter
The High Court has rejected a bid by opposition CCC Member of Parliament Allan Markham to compel Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to release the voters’ roll in electronic format after agreeing with ZEC that this could compromise the security of the database.
Mr Markham took ZEC to the higher court in October last year demanding the provision of the voters’ roll in the electronic format alleging that the 58 days ZEC said it needed to produce a printed copy was excessive.
ZEC has offered, for a fee, to print voters rolls and in any case any voter has the right to walk into the ZEC offices and look at the roll free of charge.
In an extempore ruling, Justice Never Katiyo declined the request by Harare North MP Mr Markham citing the database security concerns as well as his premature application while he was still negotiating with ZEC. He saw no merit in the suit.
“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.”
Several political activists and non-governmental organisations are piling pressure on the electoral body to release the electronic version of the voters’ roll into the public domain, rather than the printed copies.
ZEC has been refusing to release the electronic version of the voters roll on the grounds that this would compromise the security of its database, a contention which Justice Katiyo accepted and ruled in its favour.
Mr Markham, in his application, had argued that between February and April last year, he analysed an electronic copy of the voters roll prepared and released by ZEC before the by-elections that took place in March 2022 and noticed irregularities.
He claimed to have written to ZEC illustrating various anomalies on the voters roll, but was informed that the electoral body was in the process of producing an updated version.
However, any registered voter can walk into the ZEC offices and inspect the voter’s roll free of charge while any individual or organisation can get a soft copy of the national roll for US$200.
But to guard against the manipulation and abuse of the voters roll the physical copy costs US$1 per page, or US$187 000 for the full national roll, a price that does not affect any Zimbabwean voter directly or indirectly as anyone can access it even from their mobile phones.
To avoid tampering and duplication of the voters roll, ZEC created an online portal where one can log in and analyse the roll.
The voters roll copy is available in both electronic and hard copy format.
According to the Government Gazette of Statutory 145 of 2022 titled, Electoral (Voter Registration) (Amendment) Regulations, 2022 (No. 1) a hard copy of a monochrome copy of the voters’ roll shall be US$1 per page.
The US$1 a page is applicable whether it is the national voters roll, a polling station voters roll, a ward voters roll or a constituency voters roll that is sought.
According to the gazette, the fees are payable in Zimbabwe local currency at the official market rate.