CONSTITUTION WATCH 24/2013
[17th March 2013]
Correction: In Constitution Watch 23/2013, “ZESN” should be “ZEC” in the following statement: “On 15th March ZimRights succeeded in its High Court challenge of this blanket ban, with ZESN consenting to a court order obliging it to consider the ZimRights application properly.”
Referendum – Counting and Collating Votes
The result of the Referendum will be decided by whether there was a majority of YES or NO votes in response to the question on the ballot paper:
“Are you in favour of adopting that draft Constitution as the new Constitution of Zimbabwe?”
The procedure for arriving at the result is laid down in the Referendum Regulations [SI 26/2013]. It starts with the counting of the votes cast at each polling station and progresses through verification and collation of polling station figures at ward, district, constituency and provincial centres as described below, until the provincial totals are forwarded to the ZEC National Command Centre for final collation and the official announcement of the result of the Referendum.
Vote Counting at the Polling Station
No movement of ballot boxes before counting
The regulations state that votes cast at each of the 9 456 polling stations must be counted on the spot at the polling station. Ballot boxes containing ballot papers are not moved to another place for counting. Accredited observers are entitled to be present during all stages described below; but the absence of observers does not invalidate the proceedings.
There are strict rules requiring meticulous accounting for the ballot papers issued to each polling station. The official ZEC form that has to be used is form R1 – the Polling Station Return.
Step 1 – Recording the number of ballot papers issued to a polling station. This takes place before polling begins, when the returning officer must fill in Section A of the form by entering the serial numbers of the ballot paper books received from ZEC.
Step 2 – Checking the number of unused ballot papers. Immediately voting is completed the returning officer seals the ballot box with the used ballot papers still inside. Then, before opening the ballot box to count the votes, he or she fills in Section B of the form by entering details of the serial numbers of the ballot papers that were not issued to voters.
Step 3 – Opening the ballot box and counting the votes. As soon as possible after voting ends, the ballot box is opened in front of any observers present, and the votes are counted.
Step 4 – Recording the polling station results. Immediately after the count the returning officer must fill in Section C of form R1 by entering the total number of votes, the number of votes in favour of the question, the number of votes against the question, and the number of rejected ballot papers. He or she must then show the completed form to those present and allow accredited observers present to sign it. A copy of the polling station return must be faxed or emailed to the Chief Elections Officer at the National Command Centre.
Step 5 – Posting copy of completed polling station return outside polling station. The returning officer must then affix a copy of the completed form R1 on the outside of the polling station so that it is visible to the public. He or she must also provide a copy of Section C of the form to any observer who wants one.
Step 6 – Ensuring secrecy of the vote. All the ballot papers – used, unused, spoilt, rejected – and the Voters’ Register are then placed in the ballot box in separate sealed packets; the box is then sealed and kept in safe custody under ZEC’s control. It cannot be reopened for examination of its contents unless ZEC orders a recount or, if the count is challenged in the Electoral Court, by order of that court.
From Polling Station Result to Official National Result:
Intermediate Collation Centres
Polling Station returns collated at ward level. Having completed his or her duties at the polling station, the polling station returning officer must then personally deliver the original of the polling station return to the ward returning officer at the ward collation centre. Here the ward returning officer must check the accuracy of each polling station returns from all the polling stations in the ward before adding up all the polling station results to produce the ward totals of votes cast, YES votes, NO votes, rejected ballot papers and ballot papers unaccounted for. These are entered into the ward collation return, ZEC form R3. Again, accredited observers are entitled to be present, to be shown the return and to sign it, and the return is posted outside the ward collation centre. Ward results are faxed or emailed to the to the Chief Elections Officer at the National Command Centre.
Ward returns collated at constituency level. From the ward collation centre, the polling station returns and the ward collation return are personally delivered by the ward returning office to the constituency returning officer at the constituency collation centre, where all the returns are checked and the constituency collation return completed, witnessed by observers present and posted outside the collation centre. The constituency return and the returns from all the polling stations and ward centres in the constituency are sent up the line to the district returning officer, with copies of the constituency return being faxed or emailed to the Chief Elections Officer.
This process continues upwards to the district and provincial levels, with copies of each collation centre return being posted outside, emailed or faxed to the Chief Elections Officer at the National Command Centre and the originals of all returns personally delivered to the next collation level – district, then provincial – until the original returns from all the levels physically reach the Chief Elections Officer – in addition to the faxed or emailed copies of the same documents which should have reached him earlier.
The procedure is elaborate, but if strictly followed should produce a public paper trail covering each of the several stages, with separate copies of each stage’s outcome. All this should make vote rigging from polling station onwards impossible.
Final Collation of Results and Announcement of National Result
As soon as he is in possession of all original the polling station and collation centre returns, the ZEC Chief Elections Officer must commence the final collation process in the presence of observers. After verifying the accuracy of the polling station returns and the returns from all the collation centres and checking that all the returns have been properly completed and signed, he must add up the figures in the provincial collation returns to arrive at the national total numbers of YES votes, NO votes and rejected ballot papers.
The Chief Elections Officer must then, no later than 5 days after polling day, publicly declare this tally of YES votes, NO votes and rejected ballot papers. His final duty is to transmit the results to the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, who will then publish these figures and the result of the Referendum in the Government Gazette and in mass circulation and local newspapers. issues of concern expressed by some stakeholders
Stage Reached at Evening of 17th March
Despite difficulties in communication and heavy rains in some areas, and the remoteness of some polling stations, ZEC was able to report this evening that counting had been completed at most polling stations, more than 2 million people had voted, and that in some provinces collation of the provincial results had commenced.
New ZEC chairperson Rita Makarau was confident that ZEC would be able to announce the final national result soon, well within the 5-day period stipulated in the Referendum Regulations.
Note: Anyone who purports to announce the true and official Referendum result before the official declaration of the result by the Chief Elections Officer risks prosecution for contravening section 66A of the Electoral Act, and imprisonment or a fine if convicted.
SADC Observer Mission Announces Positive Verdict
At a evening briefing on 17th March, SADC Observer Mission leader Bernard Membe of Tanzania presented the mission’s statement on the Referendum. The statement commends ZEC for “the professional and dedicated manner in which they delivered a successful referendum” and concludes that while some of the concerns raised with the mission by stakeholders were pertinent, they were “not of such magnitude as to affect the credibility of the overall Referendum”. [Full statement available from firstname.lastname@example.org]
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