ZEC urged to protect assisted voters

By Byron Mutingwende

The election management body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), must come up with stringent measures that deter the abuse of assisted voting, poll watchdog the Election Resource Centre (ERC) said on Wednesday.

In the 2013 election, disproportionately large numbers of voters were assisted to vote.

“It is imperative that effective measures are taken to ensure that only persons who genuinely need assistance to vote and who want such assistance are given such assistance,” the organisation said in a statement.

The development, according to ERC, has been attributed by some sectors of society to intimidation and resultant fear.

“Others have popularly referred to this phenomenon, among other tactics, as a “harvest of fear” characterizing the Zimbabwean electoral process,” reads part of the statement.

The poll watchdog, whose vision is to see credible and transparent electoral processes at all tiers in Zimbabwe, said the measures must curb abuse and protect the right to vote in secret.

“The relevant electoral provision should contain various safeguards aimed at protecting and or enhancing the interests and rights of the handicapped and the illiterate,” said the ERC.

Fundamentally, this brief serves as a model law proposal for assisted voting while advancing the interests of people living with disabilities to free exercise their right to vote.

The organisation also urged the Parliament of Zimbabwe to facilitate legal changes that are consistent with the rights provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

In addition the organisation called the election management body to take advantage of its constitutional provisions to recommend laws.

“The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to utilize their mandate under section 157 (4) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe to propose laws,” said the ERC.

Section 157 of the Constitution says, “No amendments may be made to the Electoral Law, or to any subsidiary made under that law, unless Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has been consulted and any recommendations made by the Commission have been duly considered.”

The ERC said ZEC should champion the rights of people living with disabilities.

“ZEC through voter registration regulations and voter education should advance the rights of people living with disabilities and the illiterate,” the ERC said.

The ERC said the first safeguard should be the insertion of provisions in the sections dealing with registration of voters.

“There should be provisions where under those persons who wish to receive assistance in voting will be asked to indicate this when they register to vote. They will also be asked to indicate what form of assistance they will require e.g. that blind voters want to use Braille template so that they can vote in secret or that illiterate voters will want to be assisted by trusted friends,” reads part of the statement.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), multi-party liaison committees and political parties, the ERC said, “should also monitor the situation on the ground to ensure that the system of assisted voting is not politically abused.”

The poll watchdog also called for widespread voter education, in particular, in the rural areas where this phenomenon is rife.