Postal voting in Zim lacks safeguards, is open to abuse

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By Daniel Chigundu

Postal voting in Zim lacks safeguards, is open to abuse #ElectionsZW

The current postal voting system being used in Zimbabwean elections has been criticised for lacking necessary safeguards needed to ensure security of the vote.

Postal voting is a system that enables voters to cast their votes even though they cannot get to their polling station on polling day.

Under section 72 of the Electoral Act only members of the security services (i.e. the Defence Forces, the Police Service and the Prisons and Correctional Service) who will be on duty over the polling period, electoral officers on polling duty, and public servants who are posted outside, as well as their spouses, can enjoy the privilege of the vote.

To enjoy this privilege, the people must apply to the Chief Elections Officer at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) who must check if they meet the needed criteria.

If the Chief Elections Officer is satisfied, he or she then sends ballot papers to the applicants so that they can vote and send back the marked ballots enclosed in envelopes, through registered mail.

Section 75 of the Electoral Act says that postal voters must cast their vote secretly.

However, there have been an outcry in the last few days over the issue of the postal voting concerning the security services sector in Zimbabwe, with claims that junior officers were forced to vote in front of their superiors.

Opposition parties cried the most arguing that postal voting was conducted without their knowledge and that they were not given an opportunity to deploy election agents to safeguard the vote.

This is not the first time that the opposition has cried foul over the issue of postal voting, as they also raised the issue in 2018 after it was also alleged that junior officers were being forced to vote for Zanu PF.

However, the system didn’t change, and 5 years later the opposition is complaining on the matter again.

Even debate on the Electoral Amendment Bill did not address the matter, but rather skirted around it.

Writing in its Election Watch Series, Legal Watchdog Veritas Zimbabwe said postal voting is open to abuse, as there is no way of telling whether the applicant voted freely or even whether they are the ones who voted.

“Postal voting is notoriously open to abuse because many of the safeguards applicable to voting in polling stations cannot be applied to voters who vote by post.  

“At polling stations voters have to appear in person;  their identities are checked by polling officers, they are given their ballot papers and they go into the polling booths, all under the gaze of election observers and party agents;  under the same public gaze they put their completed ballot papers into the ballot-boxes. 

 “Everything is as transparent as possible.  Postal voting, by contrast, is done in private out of sight of election observers, so there is no way of telling if postal ballots received by the Chief Elections Officer were filled in freely by the voters concerned, or even if they were filled in by the voters themselves,” said Veritas Zimbabwe.

Citizens Coalition for Change leader Nelson Chamisa has since registered displeasure with the way the postal voting issue was handled.