ZEC urged them to do parallel vote tabulation. They did, then they got arrested

Police say they have arrested members of Zimbabwe’s largest local observer group for running parallel voter tabulation, a platform that the head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) encouraged to set up last year.

Police spokesman Paul Nyathi said on Thursday that officers had raided the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the Electoral Resource Centre at Holiday Inn, Belgravia, Milton Park and Grange in Harare.

“These were coordinating the alleged release of election results by some civic organisations linked to ZESN, ERC and others. We want to assure the public the public that investigations are ongoing,” Nyathi said.

Police seized their laptops and cellphones.

In 2018, ZESN had 7240 observers around the country.

ZESN did a Sample Based Observation (SBO), which used samples of results from around the country to compare with ZEC’s official results. The sample’s results were in line with ZEC’s numbers; ZESN’s sample showed Chamisa winning between 43.8% to 47.8% and Mnangagwa winning 48.7% to 52.7%. The official tally had Mnangagwa winning 50.6% (2,456,010 votes) and Chamisa with 44.3% (2,151,927).

Ahead of by-elections last year, ZEC chair Priscilla Chigumba said it a parallel voter tabulation by independent bodies would help counter claims of vote rigging. She urged ZESN to go beyond the SBO and lead a parallel voter tabulation system, which would collate official results in the form of V11s forms.

“Could CSOs unite and set up a parallel voter tabulation, not only for the by-elections but for 2023? Do you know how that enhances the ZEC process? Because if all of you have V11s, the certificate of primary evidence, it’s very easy for you to tell whether ZEC has stolen something or it hasn’t,” Chigumba told a meeting of political parties and observer groups last year.

She added: “Listen ZESN, because you did that in 2018, can we ask you to set up a panel of ten CSOs and come up with your own parallel voter tabulation so that in 2023 you can tell us ‘ZEC, we have all the V11s, the figures are mathematically correct, or mathematically incorrect.”

Zimbabwe’s electoral law bars anyone from declaring a candidate the winner before ZEC has done so. However, it is not illegal to collate results from V11s.

ZESN and ERC have demanded the release of their staff.

“As part of these efforts, ERC and ZESN analyse publicly available information and direct observations from accredited observers as recognised in the Zimbabwe electoral code. Therefore, the organisations’ operations are well within the law,” the groups said in a statement.

The raid adds further controversy to an election tainted by the late delivery of ballots to multiple wards across the country.