HARARE – The High Court has blocked the release of Zimbabwe’s electronic voters roll to the public noting that this was a matter of national security that should see the document protected from manipulation.
This follows a court challenge filed by Citizens Coalition for Change MP, Allan Makharm after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) refused to give him a copy that he requested last year.
Among reasons cited by the opposition lawmaker in requesting for the document was that he wanted the roll to track trends in the delimitation report.
He said as a sitting legislator, his interest in the document was pertinent.
Makharm also said an electronic copy was ideal as printed one would be inconvenient and too expensive for him.
In response, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) argued the release of the electronic voters roll would expose the document to manipulation.
He cited firebrand cyber based pressure group, Team Pachedu that has brought continued discomfort to the country’s poll management authority through pointing out glaring irregularities in ZEC’s operations amid alleged bias towards the ruling Zanu PF party.
However, Never Katiyo sitting at the Harare High Court, ruled that the application was premature.
The judge also ruled that it would be in the best interest of justice if ZEC kept the electronic roll urging Makharm to pursue other remedies than suing the commission.
Katiyo said ZEC was mandated to protect the voters roll from manipulation and abuse.
“Lawyer representing respondent also argued that we now have the Cyber and Data protection Act and under sec 13 and 18, ZEC is protected to safeguard people’s data from manipulation and misuse.
“The intention of the legislature was to have this voters roll put to the public without fear or favour so that it would open in a democratic society.
“The constitution is also clear that the mandate to compile and share the roll is with ZEC. The applicant, other than being a citizen, is a legislator and that cannot be ignored.
“He was asked if he was doing it in his personal interest and he said he wears all faces as alluded to.
“Case authorities have been cited and some seem to bear non-relevance in this case…the question is whether the respondent acted reasonably.
“Applicant said he wanted an electronic voters roll; further applicant qualifies as a person to get that voters roll. He argues hard copy is tantamount to giving him a mountain.
“Courts are there to protect citizens as mandated, judicial officers that they discharge the duty without fear or favour.
“The law gives ZEC control over the voters roll. This was done with a purpose in mind that in this time, with social media, can brew disaster hence mandating ZEC to ensure the security of the electronic voters roll is secure.
The judge said “a voters roll is a very sensitive document” which if mishandled may compromise electoral issues.
“It is wise that it is guarded jealously so that it’s given to individuals when it’s right.
“The 58 days which have lapsed since this application was launched cannot be said to be too long and taking into consideration that this case came to court prematurely.
“It is his (Makharm) right to request but in the same vein, ZEC is obliged to speedily come out with a voters roll with all security features.
“…In the final analysis, this court finds that this case lacks merit, is prematurely before the courts and that ZEC should make sure that it protects the voters’ roll taking into consideration the Cyber Protection Act. Each party to bear its own costs,” ruled the judge.
Katiyo said full reasons will be provided in due course.