THE 2008 harmonised elections require at least 15 000 polling stations and 174 000 ballot boxes for the 210 constituencies, among other resources, if th
ey are to be run successfully in line with regional standards.
Observers say the increase in the number of constituencies from 120 to 210 and the simultaneous election of four candidates at once — president, MP, senator and councillor — using specific ballot boxes, requires more human, material and financial resources than was required in any previous election.
This is expected to cost trillions of dollars.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) projects that at least 15 000 polling stations would be ideal for the 2008 polls, although this would be determined by the ongoing delimitation exercise and the number of registered voters.
Zesn national director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava said apart from having more polling stations, the smooth running of the polls would also hinge on the availability of adequate polling officers, voters rolls and polling booths, voter education and other resources to speed up the voting process.
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) public relations director Shupikai Mashereni said there were 8 265 polling stations for 120 constituencies in the 2005 parliamentary polls.
Simple mathematical calculations show that each constituency had an average of 69 polling booths. If the same number was to be maintained that would translate to 14 490 polling stations for the 210 constituencies in 2008.
In 2005, ZEC imported 50 000 translucent ballot boxes and an average of three were distributed to each of the 8 265 polling stations to facilitate the splitting of voters into three alphabetical categories — A-L, M and N to Z.
A total of 5 780 912 people were on the voters roll.
If three ballot boxes were used at each polling station for the election of a single candidate, 12 would be needed for the presidential, parliamentary, council and senatorial candidates, which translates to 173 880 ballot boxes.
Mashereni acknowledged that more polling stations would be needed for next year’s polls, but pointed out that the exact figures would be determined by the delimitation exercise and the number of registered voters.
He said ZEC had submitted its budget to treasury for the elections, though delimitation and compilation of the voters roll, which should bring about the exact figures, was still ongoing.
“We have since submitted our bid but I am not in a position to reveal the figures. Our budget was based on some projections. I agree, delimitation is still on while the Registrar-General’s office is working on the voters roll,” Mashereni said.
“We submitted our bid to treasury which includes the acquisition of more ballot boxes and other resources for the elections and we are waiting to see what we will get from the national budget.”
Apart from ballot boxes, more voting booths, ballot papers for the four candidates, ink, ultra-violet light detection devices, voters rolls, gas lamps used in rural areas and in case of power cuts, communication devices, vehicles and various other items are needed to ensure the smooth running of the elections.
The voters roll, which should be inspected by the electorate before the polls, was yet to be finalised as the Registrar-General’s office requires $3,5 trillion before the end of the year for the task.
In terms of human resources, there were at least 12 polling officers, including the presiding officer, at each polling station and more would be needed next year to ensure transparency because of the increased number of candidates.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), which is mandated to provide security during the polls, is expected to deploy at least four police officers per polling station.
Senior Assistant Commissioner Faustino Mazango, the chairperson of the police elections committee, was recently quoted in the press saying the ZRP intended to boost its manpower from 29 000 to 50 000 before the polls.
“We have started a massive recruitment exercise so that we have a minimum 50 000 police officers by the time we have elections,” Mazango said. “If we fail to get those numbers, we will use the police constabulary because right now we have about 29 000 police officers, which falls short of our requirements.”
It appears that the ZRP will rely more on the constabulary as Deputy Police Commissioner Levy Sibanda recently told a parliamentary portfolio committee on Defence and Home Affairs that the organisation had exhausted its 2007 budgetary allocation and this affected the force’s recruitment drive.
Commenting on the polls to be held in one day in terms of the Sadc guidelines on elections, Chipfunde-Vava said the efficiency of the polls would largely depend on the ZEC’s planning.
She said: “Since the electorate will be choosing four different candidates, ZEC needs to ensure that there are adequate ballot boxes and papers as well as polling officers to expedite the verification process.
“The period a single voter takes to go through a name-check on the roll, ink checking and dipping, allocation of ballot sheets, which will be four this time around, casting of the vote and depositing the ballot sheets in the right boxes according to the candidates and alphabetical list, can present problems.
“So it’s critical for ZEC and other stakeholders to educate the electorate on the process as well as ensuring that they are in the right constituencies. The voters roll check, especially for names starting with certain letter, usually takes time and this can be addressed by having more voters roll desks and officers like what happened in Sierra-Leone.”
Chipfunde-Vava said more voters roll check desks would reduce queues and the time a voter takes from arriving at a polling station to finally casting their vote.
She added that the provision of more voting booths in the polling station would also expedite the voting process.
Local elections usually start at 7am and end at 7pm but in some cases voting time has had to be extended due to various factors.
Although there is no agreed or acceptable timeframe within which a voter should go through the voting process, South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission said an average of 15 to 20 minutes was ideal.
Electoral Institute of Southern Africa senior advisor Liona Tip said the voting timeframe, however, depended on a number of factors, including literacy levels of the electorate and the length of queues.
“Electoral administration authorities tend to work on about 600 voters per polling station to ensure a smooth process. Actual voting time for a single ballot can be between three to five minutes, but it can be longer if the voter requires assistance,” said Tip.
Commenting on the polling logistics, Mashereni said he was confident that the process would go on smoothly as previous trends had shown that polling stations were usually busy at the beginning of elections.
“Our experience has shown that by the time the polls end, polling officers are usually free. It also depends on the number of polling stations and the turn out of voters at particular polling stations,” he said.
“Sometimes there can be voter apathy due to several factors and this is where voter education by ZEC, election monitoring organisations and political parties should play their role. I am however confident that the polls will go on smoothly.”