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Lost Opportunity on Using ICT To Transform the Zimbabwe Electoral Process

24 February, 2014

Source: ICT Africa

Soon after the Zimbabwe Government of National Unity (GNU) assumed power, there was so much hope that the Zimbabwe voting process would be transformed and lead to an end to a decade old crises over allegations of voter fraud. Some in the ICT industry specifically called for the use of technology to improve the chaotic voters’ roll and the timely transmission of poll results to electoral control centres, to no avail.

One technology that was proposed by Zimbabweans and others to address gross irregularities in the voters’ roll, including names of non-existent or deceased persons, is a biometric voter registration system. This technology is by no means rocket science as it has easily been implemented in other African countries, including Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Cameroon, Sierra Leone and even Somaliland.

Biometric voter registration is a simple process in which registrants are required to have their bio-data, in most cases their fingerprints, captured by scanners and stored and analysed by computers. Where this technology has been implemented, all would-be voters were required to be physically present at designated registration centres with applicable identification documents for the registration process. On voting day, the identity of voters was verified using the same technologies, to prevent electoral fraud such as multiple voting.

One key advantage of most of such systems is their ability to automatically detect multiple registrations, either erroneously or fraudulently introduced into the system. The system also requires the elimination of old records and their replacement with brand new and accurately entered records. Such a system could have easily transformed the Zimbabwe voters’ roll and polling process into a credible and readily acceptable one.

The other area of controversy in the Zimbabwe electoral process, especially in 2008, was the time it took for votes to be counted and results made public. Among other anomalies, the long delay between the casting of votes and the announcement of results cast a shadow on the credibility of the results. The use of a mobile-based results transmission system, such as the one used in Kenya, was going to build voters’ confidence that the results were credible.

When the GNU was formed as a compromise after the 2008 disputed elections, many were hopeful that measures were finally going to be put in place for future Zimbabwe elections to be more transparent and credible. What was even more encouraging was that the new Minister responsible for ICT, Nelson Chamisa was from the opposition party. Moreover, Chamisa was young and perceived to be very knowledgeable in the ICT field. It was only logical that given the energy the opposition had expended in disputing elections; they would, through Minister Chamisa, drive the reform of the polling process using ICT.

To the dismay of many, Minister Chamisa failed to make an impact in this regard. Other than making a comment or two about biometric voter registration, he did not aggressively drive the implementation of the technology in the Zimbabwe electoral process. Another election came and went and the opposition once more cried foul.

Now that the next Zimbabwe election is about four years away, nobody seems to care about the shambolic state of the voters’ roll and the entire voting process, not even the opposition party. As usual, it is expected that the opposition will desperately press for electoral reform only weeks before the next election, but this will once more be too late.


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