Releasing the voters’ roll in electronic format may violate cyber laws, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson Priscilla Chigumba has told Parliament.
An opposition MP has appealed to the Supreme Court to compel the commission to release the voters’ roll. The call for the release of the voters’ roll has the backing of key local observer groups, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, which ran a separate audit of the 2018 register.
But Chigumba says releasing the roll in the format demanded by the opposition may violate digital privacy laws under the Cyber and Data Protection Act, which came into effect in 2021.
“The Data Protection Act has placed additional responsibilities on the commission in terms of the format in which this data is disseminated to the public, to protect the data of voters,” Chigumba told a committee hearing at Parliament on Wednesday.
“We have made recommendations to the line Ministry as regards how the Electoral Act can be aligned with the Data Protection Act so that we balance the need for voters to have ready access to the voters’ roll and the requirements of the Data Protection Act for us to safeguard voters from things such as identity theft.”
Physical copies of the voters’ roll can be accessed at ZEC offices. However, in March, the High Court rejected a bid by Allan Markham, Harare North MP for the opposition CCC, to compel ZEC to release the voters’ roll in electronic format for audit. Markham is appealing in the Supreme Court.
According to Chigumba, it is up to MPs to align the data protection and electoral laws.
“It does not take anything away from the Commission to give voters the voters’ roll as readily as you can buy buns in a store, but we do have an obligation to ensure that we comply with all legislation, which Parliament has, in its wisdom, given to us,” Chigumba told the MPs.
MPs should look at regional best practices on how other countries treat voters’ roll.
Said Chigumba: “You might be surprised at what you find in the region. You might find that some electoral bodies in the region have rather strict rules on the format in which the voters’ roll is provided to voters.”
Treasury allocated Z$128 billion for the election, with just Z$77 billion disbursed so far. With the money eroded by inflation, ZEC may need additional funding to hold the elections, Chigumba said.
Elections are expected by August.