Assisted voting: Where to draw the line?

by Buhle Tshavango
As preparations are underway for the 2018 harmonized elections, skepticism over the outcome of an election which is yet to be conducted are already rife. Stirred by memories of voter intimidation culminating in forced voter assistance amidst poor electoral reforms voter confidence is already on the low.
Authorities have been urged to ammend constitutional provisions relating to assisted voting ahead of the 2018 elections.
The 2013 election recorded an unusually high number of assisted voters amid allegations of voter intimidation. A Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) report on the 31 July 2013 Harmonised elections records that at 38% of polling stations 25 or more people were assisted to vote. There was a sharp contrast between urban and rural polling stations. At 49% of rural polling stations, more than 25 people were assisted to vote as opposed to only 5% of urban polling stations.
The report also stipulated that in most urban voters were denied the chance to vote as compared to rural voters, this may be attributed to the fact that rural voters could be easily be intimidated into forced voter assistance on grounds of illiteracy.
“The voters’ roll of 19 June as provided by the Office of the Registrar-General clearly showed that urban voters had systematically been denied the opportunity to register to vote.
“An estimated 99.97% of potential rural voters were registered, while only about 67.94 % of the potential urban voters were registered.
“At 82 % of urban polling stations, ZESN observers reported that potential voters were turned away and not permitted to vote for reasons that included names not appearing on the voters’ roll and turning up at the wrong ward for voting. This was in sharp contrast to rural areas where only 38 % of polling stations turned away many potential voters”, reads part of the report.
The used of assisted voting as a tool for intimidating rural voters has continuously been employed to ensure votes are directed into a targeted direction.
The law through section 155 of the constitution allows for assisted voting but as the 2018 elections approach changes need to be effected into the process to ensure voter rights are not infringed.
The Electoral Resource Centre (ERC) proposed measures to curb assisted voting abuse, deter its use to absolute necessity and protect the right to vote in secret. These measures included protection of the rights of people living with disabilities and the illiterate urging the need to ensure all assisted voting should be done in such a way that a person who is being assisted to vote chooses an assistant of their choice.
“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.
“If an illiterate voter so wishes, he or she may vote without being assisted by another person. An illiterate voter may vote without assistance by identifying the political party for whom he or she wishes to vote and by identifying the political party by its symbol and then placing his or her mark in the box provided for voting alongside the candidate or on box containing the party symbol on the ballot paper or on any other box in the line which contains the box for the candidate of the political party concerned”, reads part of the recommendations.
The Parliament of Zimbabwe was urged to facilitate legal changes that are consistent with the rights provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe whilst Interest groups representing people living with disabilities were encouraged to utilize the model laws to advocate for protection or advancement of the rights of the physically challenged.
Since 2000 all national elections were marred by allegations of voter intimidation, harassment of candidates and political parties. ZEC has been urged to the huge numbers of assisted voters and people turned away to ensure free and credible elections as 2018 approaches.

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