ZANU-PF’s recent violation of privacy has been grabbing all the headlines. The political party sent out some unsolicited and scarily specific SMSs to some Econet subscribers. This has resulted in a lot of heated debate with people questioning where the party got these numbers and the specific constituency of subcribers.
As we were taking a closer look at this situation we stumbled upon a website containing the voters’ roll for 30 July’s election. We downloaded the voters’ roll for the Harare Metropolitan and quickly we realised that the voters’ roll may be too detailed and this may leave citizens exposed to all kinds of risks for a long time.
In a voters’ roll report published by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network(ZESN) chief among their recommendations to ZEC is the statement:
The voters’ roll should be accessible and readily available for inspection to the public to increase transparency and confidence in the voters’ roll.
The transparency championed by ZESN also comes with some serious risks. The fact that there is a site that contains the voters’ roll for the upcoming elections might turn out to be a double-edged sword.
Who uploaded the voters’ roll online?
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The Voters’ Roll is placed in all its glory and contains the following info on all voters:
- Date of birth
- Voter Address
- Polling Station Code
- Polling Station Name
- Local Authority
This paints a pretty clear picture and with these details available online every single voter on that roll has every reason to feel uneasy.
The fact that there are such elaborate details on the voters’ roll means there is a high possibility of identity theft.
For banks that allow customers to open ‘lite’ accounts with less stringent KYC (know your customer) procedures there is a real risk that people can dupe them and create an account that has a false identity. In this digital age what stops one from photoshopping their picture onto a scanned copy of their ID and presenting this to a bank and making 10 different accounts using this technique.
There is a huge problem with the voters’ roll being online because essentially if someone is not happy with a politician, banker, government official, their headmaster or whoever and they can look for them in this voters’ roll before proceeding to their place of residence and wreaking havoc.
What stops thieves from targeting popular businessman using this voters’ roll? What stops a crazy ex from stalking you and popping at your house using this voters’ roll? Nothing really…
It could have been worse…
Fortunately, ZEC refused to make available a voters’ roll with pictures –which the opposition was clamouring for- because if they had released one with pictures it would have been an absolute nightmare and the capabilities of identity theft would have been endless.
The opposition has claimed that the voters’ roll is fake because it has no pictures but this kind of thinking is very selfish. Politicians want to rule out ghost voters, I get that. But if that compromises the safety of the public whose interests the same politicians claim to have in mind that is a clear indicator of where the politician’s priorities lie. I applaud ZEC for not producing a voters roll with pictures.
How do other countries handle their voters’ roll?
It’s a dicey issue and it seems other countries seem to disclose different particulars of voters.
According to the government website for the United Kingdom:
The electoral register (sometimes called the ‘electoral roll’) lists the names and addresses of everyone who’s registered to vote.
Similarly in Australia, users are required to give names and addresses:
Currently, the electoral roll records just the name and address of the voter, although in previous years occupation was also recorded. Today the voters’ roll is only produced in an electronic format, and can only be viewed at an AEC (Australian Electoral Commission) office, each of which holds a copy of the electoral roll for the entire country.
These two nations are just mere examples I’m using to show that the details included in our Voters’ roll are too particular and make it really easy to cause harm to registered voters across the country.
In Australia, the voters roll is only accessible at electoral commission offices and this also reduces chances of anyone and everyone constantly having the roll and doing who-knows-what with that document.
It’s a bit unfair to compare these countries with Zimbabwe without considering the fact that elections in Zim have been widely contested and there have been allegations of foul play so there is a lot of fear on the part of opposition parties.
Should our voters roll be so detailed?
As mentioned before there were concerns of ghost voters going into this election (and many other elections before). This concern is what has motivated opposition parties to demand more detailed and easily accessible voters roll. The only problem is that a detailed and easily accessible voters roll has downsides that (to me at least) outweigh the upsides.
The very same voters roll that would satisfy political parties as we approach polls on the 30th of this month would also leave millions of Zimbabweans at risk way after the elections and I would seriously prefer to have less of my details accessible to strangers.