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High Court dismisses Markham’s application on access to electronic voters’ roll

High Court Judge Justice Never Katiyo has dismissed an application by Harare North MP Allan Markham to compel the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to provide him with an electronic copy of the consolidated National voters roll.

Justice Katiyo ruled that the application was of no merit and that the matter was prematurely brought before the courts.

Justice Katiyo made the ruling immediately after hearing arguments from both parties in Harare today, 7 March 2023.

Lawyer Trust Manjengwah on behalf of Honourable Markham had argued that ZEC’s failure to provide his client with the voters’ roll in a format of his choice was in violation of his rights in terms of the law.

Manjengwah told the court that ZEC was in clear violation of its obligations in terms of section 21(3) of the Electoral Act which clearly states that the Commission “shall provide any person who requests it, and who pays the prescribed fee, with a copy of any ward or constituency voters roll, either in printed or in electronic form as the person may request”.

“It is important to note that the fees for the voters’ roll in the respective formats are different. The fee for the hard copy is US$200 plus printing cost of US$1 per page which results in the total cost of about US$187,000. This is many times more costly than the electronic copy of the voters’ roll, which is about US$200.00,” argued Manjengwah.

He added that the electronic form was “portable and can be easily analyzed with relative ease, while a hard copy of the national roll will be cumbersome to hold and practically impossible to analyze”.

In addition, Manjengwah argued, it takes the ZEC thirty (30) days to print a copy of the hard copy before an applicant who has complied with all the conditions set by the Respondent can have it.

“So even if one has the money, which I must is exorbitant and unaffordable for many people including myself, you would still have to wait for a minimum of thirty days for Respondent to print it. The choice therefore to procure an electronic copy is both borne out of its being more affordable and easier to obtain and analyse,” he added.

ZEC lawyer Tawanda Kanengoni maintained that the Commission was in the process of securing the electronic voters’ roll in the wake of threats of hacking from an online pressure group “Team Pachedu”.

“We take every person with suspicion as it comes to the protection of the voters’ roll. Once a security issue arises, it becomes a threat to everyone on the roll because it contains people’s personal details. Section 21(7) of the Electoral Act gives ZEC the power to impose reasonable conditions on the provision of the roll to prevent it from being used for commercial or other purposes unconnected with an election,” he said citing the Cyber and Data Protection Act.

Justice Katiyo agreed with the ZEC’s position and called for tighter security measures before the electronic voters’ roll can be released to members of the public.

“58 days cannot be said to be unreasonable. The applicant came to the courts prematurely. I would like to believe that there are other remedies that could have been used. The respondent (ZEC) has said it can provide the Voters’ roll in hard copy which option is still available,” found Justice Katiyo.

He however ruled that ZEC is still obliged by law to provide an electronic voters’ roll with all the security features in place within a reasonable period as provided for by the law.