ELECTORAL Commission of Zambia (ECZ) Chief Electoral Officer Patrick Nshindano says that it is practically impossible for anyone to manipulate the elections data software because of the secure systems and security features associated with it.
Nshindano, however, said the Commission cannot guarantee a conducive political environment because it may not have control of the conduct of some political stakeholders.
Meanwhile, Nshindano has advised political parties to properly train their election observers on how to effectively monitor the electoral process.
Speaking during a News Diggers in-house training programme on election coverage, Nshindano called on the media to play its role in advocating for a peaceful environment for elections, and correcting disinformation in the electoral process.
“When it comes to the actual management of elections in this country, when it comes to the voting itself, it’s very difficult to manipulate results. When we talk about ECZ, I can guarantee you that it is practically impossible for anyone to manipulate the system. This is why I am saying when it comes to the actual elections; this, 100 per cent I can vouch for, that the system is secure. What I cannot vouch for is the environment because the environment, we are not in control of that,” he said.
When asked why people should trust ECZ when it was widely reported in 2016 that a stranger was caught in the commission’s server room attempting to tamper with the data, Nshindano explained that there was no server at Mulungushi Conference Centre.
“First of all, there is no server room for ECZ at Mulungushi [International Conference Centre], as people tend to think. That man went into the result tabulation room at Mulungushi, not the server room. A server room is very secure, nobody goes there. There are two people who go there with very high level clearance, and even these people cannot go there directly or alone. Apart from that our network is not linked to any other network. We manage our data ourselves. So, for anyone to even attempt to manipulate anything, it will clearly show and it will leave a trail. Even our laptops at the commission there is no WiFi. You have to link to the network, the primary network of security. So the moment one gets to that, a red flag points to what you are doing and there are logs that show,” Nshindano said.
Nshindano also explained the role of biometrics in ensuring a secure voters roll.
“Biometrics are for multiple purposes, the most essential one is to bring integrity to the register so that nobody can manipulate the voters roll. In the past, we only had one pamphlet which we collected. For those who do manual work, your thumb could be eroded, it could not read properly and so, it’s possible for the register to be manipulated that way and put in the record. With the enhanced biometrics, it takes a special ID. The idea is that nobody can manipulate, you cannot add ghost voters to the register, that’s impossible,” he said.
“With biometrics, it’s very easy, at the touch of a finger print, you will be able to run a query and you will be able to see who is in the register with biometric security features. There are no two people with identical biometrics. This is why even when people say, there were multiple registrations, there were people with two cards, all those things can be sorted out by running biometrics through the system and removing any double entries.”
He added that the electoral rules for announcing poling station results had changed, making it easy for stakeholders to have accurate results even before ECZ announce.
Nshindano said this was because there would be no voting streams, but polling stations, which would announce the results before transmitting them to the tallying centre in Lusaka.
The ECZ boss, however, said that the law did not allow anyone to announce elections results before the Commission.
“By law it’s only the Electoral Commission that should announce the results. Because you will announce and the next minute ECZ announces something else and that tends to create chaos in the country. If the masses run with this story that someone has won, when you didn’t win, it’s something. So you can have the results but you cannot announce them. This time, there will not be anyone announcing the results verbally. People get tired announcing results every day from morning into night, and they can make a mistake. So this time, when the results come in at Mulungushi, they will be put on the projectors and televised. I heard heard all the claims and stories that ECZ rigs elections, that is not true. It’s something that I carried when I went to the Electoral Commission, to be honest, because one of the tags that we carry is that we rig elections. It’s a very unfortunate tag. So when I went there, I queried, I asked them, ‘it it true that you rig elections?’ The answer is simple, there is nothing like that” he said.
Nshindano said the media can play a key role in ensuring that there is a level playing field for election participants.
“I think media people we need to look at the environment that elections are taking place in, maybe those are the aspects that you can query. Do they provide a level playing field, do people play the game at a level footing? When it comes to the elections, 100 percent there is no rigging. It’s practically impossible especially with the systems that are in place. This I can vouch for. But we need the media to help us look at those issues and help us create a peaceful and conducive environment for elections,” he said.
And Nshindano observed that political parties had not properly trained their election observers and polling agents.
“When the ballot papers come in, when they arrive at the headquarters, we call stakeholders to verify, this is standard practise, they come and check. And I have seen this so many times, even when you go from national to provincial, polling agents are seated there, they have no clue how many ballot papers came, they have no serial numbers. Then they will be telling you ‘this box looks bend, why is it bend?’ ‘this tape is different, why is it sealed like this?’ And we ask them, do you have the serial numbers? Did your colleagues give you the numbers? Because that’s what they are supposed to check, not how the box is looking and so on, but those are the things they dwell on and tell us things like ‘you have already started rigging’,” said Nshindano.