EDITORIAL COMMENT: Reconsider proof of residence requirement in BVR exercise

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THE nationwide voter registration exercise is proceeding smoothly throughout the country with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announcing that it is well on course to registering all qualifying registrants but reports that the requirement for potential voters to provide proof of residence is impeding the process are worrying.

The electoral body also revealed in its latest update on Tuesday that it had so far registered more than one million voters countrywide and was happy with the progress of the Biometric Voter Registration exercise but legislators have called for the scrapping of proof of residence pre-condition, saying it serves no purpose. We are inclined to agree with them.

On Tuesday, Zec revealed progress in its voter registration exercise. “We have reached the one million voter registration mark and we’re confident that we’ll be able to register all the people that qualify to vote.  The Commission would like to inform the public that it has the capacity to register all eligible voters if they turn up for registration during the remaining three phases,” Zec public relations director Mr Justin Manyau said in a statement.

Phase two of the BVR blitz will start on Sunday and end on November 13, 2017 while the third phase starts on November 16, 2017 and ends on December 1, 2017. The fourth phase will start on December 4, 2017 and end on December 19, 2017. Zec has also embarked on an intensive voter education campaign using various mass media such as radio, television, newspapers, road shows and messages sent via cellphones.

According to Zec’s cumulative voter registration statistics, provinces in Matabeleland region have the least number of registered voters with Bulawayo registering 29 503 voters against a provincial Zimstat 2018 projected voter registration of 409 389 as at Sunday October 22, 2017.

In Matabeleland North only 37 292 people had registered to vote against a projected voter population of 389 592 while in Matabeleland South 37 151 voters had registered against an expected 356 586. Manicaland province had 143 770 registered voters which was the highest. The province’s projected voter registration is 912 762 voters. Harare had registered 139 300 voters while Mashonaland Central had registered 106 603 and Mashonaland East had 135 148.

In Mashonaland West 66 105 people had registered, Masvingo had 122 332 and Midlands 135 647. The report also revealed that a total of 22 328 people had been turned away due to various reasons. These include failure to produce proof of residence, producing defaced identity documents and producing driver’s licences instead of national identity cards. From the latest statistics, it is apparent that the exercise has got off to a slow start due to a variety of reasons.

Figures from the Matabeleland provinces are especially worrying and authorities need to ascertain the reasons for this apathy. We are also worried about the turning away of people intending to register due to their failure to produce proof of residence. Members of Parliament were seized with this issue in the August House on Tuesday and we feel some of their arguments are valid.

Legislators from the main political parties urged Zec to scrap the requirement for potential voters to provide proof of residence, saying the precondition is serving no purpose apart from making the voter registration process cumbersome. There are numerous reports that some village heads are charging people for them to write letters that serve as proof of residence. In some cases, the village heads are reportedly refusing to write the letters to settle personal scores.

As at October 23, Zec had turned away 22 873 potential registrants for various reasons, including failure to provide the proof of residence and representatives of various political parties have agreed that Zec should scrap the requirement, saying it was “useless” as no verification was being done to check the authenticity of the documents produced by people as proof of residence.

They argued that the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system was so tamper-proof that it could ordinarily prevent both multiple registrations and voting.  It seems proof of residence is the main reason why people are being turned away from voter registration and Zec should consider scrapping this requirement if it is serving no purpose apart from making the process cumbersome.

There seems to be serious discord regarding interpretation of what is valid proof of residence and this has become a source of conflict in both urban and rural centres.

Reports that some unscrupulous village heads are charging people to assist them obtain written proof of residence are worrisome. Even in urban areas, it appears some landlords are also impeding the process by refusing to cooperate with their tenants.

If proof of residence is now hindering the smooth flow of the BVR registration process, then Zec should seriously consider scrapping it.

Article Source: The Chronicle