There are serious problems with the manner in which the Electoral Commission of Zambia is handling the voter registration exercise. Here are the top 10 concerns that ECZ must address urgently:
1. Few polling stations are registering people: ECZ told people that the voter registration exercise would be more effective than the NRC registration process because all 9,000 polling stations would simultaneously be registering people. They even gave a mathematical probability that to capture nine million voters, all they needed was to register 33 people per day. This was not the case; the reality on the ground is that there are few officers and few polling stations which are operational. The truth is that ECZ has allocated seven days per polling station, so that is not the meaning of simultaneous. Even if polling stations register more than 33 people per day, it still leaves the set target in jeopardy.
2. Misinformation and poor communication: ECZ did not communicate adequately to the people which polling stations would be considered in the first phase of voter registration. We are aware of the deployment schedules published in the newspapers, but the problems is that; (a) very few people have access to newspaper, (b) these deployment schedules were only came out when the registration process was already starting. There was no time for information dissemination. People have been going to their polling stations everyday but they are not finding any registration activity going on, they are calling us in the media, wondering what is going on. It is very likely that these people will give up, and by the time ECZ would be visiting their polling stations under the fourth deployment schedule, the citizens would have been discouraged from taking part in the registration process. And, by the way, what criteria did ECZ use when deciding which polling stations should handle the process first?
3. Shifting day absence: According to our findings, all mobile voter registration officers were not working yesterday (Monday), because that is the day that the Commission has set aside for shifting from one polling station to another. This ‘off day’ will be repeated on Tuesday next week, which will be another shifting day. This process will be repeated until the close of the registration exercise. This means the number of days announced for voter registration is actually false and registration officers will not work every day. This also means people who will go out to register on these days will bounce.
4. The online voter registration: This has not served its purpose in our view. We say this because many registrations officers are struggling to access the data that was uploaded on the website. They are complaining that they don’t have network. This is prevalent among registration officers operating in the rural areas. According to ECZ, if you are faced with a situation where the registration officer cannot retrieve your online registration data, you are encouraged to ignore the online voter registration in order to start the process all over again. What’s the point of registering online if only a few polling stations would have access to the online registration database?
5. Registering people in the night: We have observed that ECZ has guided that all the people who reach the registration center by 17:00 hours must be attended to before the registration officers can close the center. While this sounds courteous, it is causing a scenario where registration officers are working late into the night, sometimes until dawn before they can retire to bed. What is so difficult with extending the voter registration period so that people can operate during day time?
6. Incompetence by some registration officers: We wonder if the Commission satisfied the training requirements of the registration officers because some are struggling with the equipment. Taking a picture, printing and laminating the documents seem to be a lot of work for some officers. Without help from anyone, they would not manage to register 20 people per day. ECZ managers must not sit comfortably in Lusaka and assume that the process is going on as smoothly as envisaged; there are problems out there. We have gone out and we have seen these problems.
7. Overworking registration officers: It is clear that there is no apathy in the registration process. Hundreds of thousands of people are jostling to be captured in the new voters’ register. This has caused a scenario where the registration officers are deprived of humane work conditions. We have observed that at most registration centers, only one officer is on duty and this officer does not have time to break for lunch. Sometimes, the officers don’t even have time to answer the call of nature. This is not right. Some officers spoken to are saying if ECZ extends the registration exercise, they will not take part because they feel like they have been subjected to slave-like conditions.
8. Poor quality of voters’ cards: This one is very embarrassing to say the least. How can we be using a piece of laminated A4 paper as voters cards? Is this the best that the Electoral House could come up with? And they even have the audacity of writing that the cards will be expiring in 2030. Even the ballot papers will be more durable than these voters cards, so how are they going to reach 2030?
9. Security features on voters cards: Apart from being of poor quality, we don’t seem to see any serious security features on these cards, except from the barcode. How sure is the Electoral Commission that the boys in Matero cannot duplicate these cards? If they are able to produce ‘authentic’ looking grade 12 results, UNZA degrees, drivers licenses, and anything else you seek, what can stop them from forging this cheap voter’s card? What guarantee and assurance is ECZ giving the electorate that this is not possible?
10. Multiple registrations: We have seen that some individuals have succeeded to register as voters twice. Evidence of this fact is all over social media. We have not heard an explanation from the Commission around this issue. Why? What safeguards has ECZ put in place to ensure that people don’t register twice?