Kuda Bwititi: Chief Reporter
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is forging ahead with plans to conduct voter registration through the biometric voter registration (BVR) system and has directed the State Procurement Board to select the company that will provide the equipment.Zec wants to use BVR kits to produce a flawless voters’ roll before next year’s general election to end post-election disputes and allegations of vote rigging.
BVR technology will be used for voter registration in Zimbabwe for the first time and unfamiliarity with the equipment has led to misconceptions such as the suggestion that the kits would be used for actual voting.
As a result of the confusion, there were suggestions that the BVR system should be abandoned, but Zec is expecting to take delivery of the equipment by April to start the voter registration by May and end it in November 2017.
BVR seeks to prevent multiple-voting as biometric technology will verify a voter’s identity by analysing his/her physical characteristics such as fingerprints in situ.
In an interview last week, Zec chairperson Justice Rita Makarau said, “As far as we are concerned, there is no going back on the BVR kits. We are following our roadmap and as we stand, the site validation tests process has now been taken over by the SPB.
“This process is undertaken through inviting the bidders to demonstrate the use of the facility. So we expect that very soon, SPB will announce the company that will supply the kits.”
Justice Makarau said although Zec had initially set March 20 as the date by which the supplier of the BVR kits would be made known, the timeline will now be determined by the SPB.
“The matter is no longer in our hands since it is now a procurement issue. So we also await feedback from SPB because they are now in charge of the process.”
Justice Makarau said BVR was fool-proof as the system ensured prospective voters were registered once, leaving no room for duplication.
“These systems will be able to detect if there is any information that has been duplicated. So the strength of this system is that it is full proof and any double registration will be detected. The system is tailor made to ensure that people are able to register once and for all.”
She dismissed speculation that BVR was prone to manipulation.
“We want the public to understand that there is nothing really amiss about this exercise. Voter registration will be carried through a system whereby our voter registration team will be placed at stations where people will be invited to undergo the process.
“There is not really a world of difference between the current voter registration exercise which uses BVR and what used to happen in the past.
“The only real difference is that in addition to being asked to submit their proof of residence and national identity cards we will ask those intending to vote to also submit their photos. So they will have their photographs taken and they will also have their fingerprints taken.”
Justice Makarau said people should understand that BVR was for registration only and not actual voting.
“There appears to be confusion between biometric registration and electronic voting. Biometric voter registration is used to compile the voters roll. It will not be used on voting day. It is simply used to capture the people for the voters roll. During the election, people will manually cast their votes just like what they have been doing in previous years.
“This is not an unfamiliar process for Zimbabwe. Every ID has biometric features in terms of the fingerprint and the picture of a person.”
Justice Mkarau said after voter registration, ZEC would safely store the data for use in the 2018 elections.
“So this equipment is just to collect the data. This equipment will be kept safely under our custody. It is like taking a laptop to bring back data to your office.”
Justice Makarau said ZEC was finalising the mapping and demarcation of constituencies.
According to ZEC’s guidelines for the 2018 polls, demarcation of new polling station boundaries will ensure voters do not travel more than 5km to cast ballots.
Said Justice Makarau: “We hope to be done by mid-April. The activities for this process involve our teams visiting the polling areas and verifying what has been done on the ground. It also involves looking at whether there is need to expand boundaries of villages. This exercise is going on and we hope that we will come up with the maps and take them for validation.”
ZEC started the process of acquiring BVR kits in December 2016 when the electoral body flighted an advert inviting firms to present their bids.
ZEC’s technical committee evaluated the bids from 12 companies, and three were selected to bring their equipment to demonstrate how it works.
Biometrics is the science and technology of measuring and analysing biological data and is used to uniquely identify individuals by their physical characteristics and involves acquiring data, encryption and data analysis.
ZEC is mandated by the Constitution to register new voters and manage the voters roll, a role previously conducted by the Registrar-General’s Office.
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