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Mobile voter registration in Zimbabwe needs improvement

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Mobile voter registration in Zimbabwe was meant to begin in January. But the three week exercise has only finally gotten underway recently. The publicity around it has been poor, and the rules have been changing along the way. Take for example, Saturday’s Herald headline: ZEC waives voter registration requirements. This development will make it easier for some people to register moving forward, but it prejudices those who might have tried earlier this year, and who were turned away.

I was prompted to try my luck at a mobile voter registration station this weekend, when I saw a flyer that said I could also get a replacement ID at the same spot. Since I need the ID before I can register anyway, it seemed like a great opportunity. Granted, I heard about the initiative late in the day – So I was not among the “early birds.” By the time I got to Courtney Selous Primary School around 3pm on Sunday, the place was packed. There were easily 250 people there, some sitting on the grass outside the school grounds, a short queue at the gate, and a large knot of people inside the school forming at least four different queues.

After 20 minutes spent wandering around the various queues at trying to figure out where I should stand to get a replacement ID, and another hour standing in the correct but slow-moving queue for a replacement ID, it began to dawn on me that I would never get served before the spot closed at 6, so I left empty handed.

The fact that there were so many people there is encouraging – And means that maybe voter education around the new Constitution and changing requirements for voters is paying off. It also means that maybe interest in Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections is greater than some analysts had feared, and makes things like the reported high voter turn out in the Constitutional referendum perhaps more credible.

But mobile voter registration needs more days, more locations and more clarity. If it is not just to be one more example of Zimbabwe’s politicians paying lip service to citizen participation, and doing the bare minimum to tick the various boxes to demonstrate compliance with required processes, the exercise should be extended for at least another month, with more stations and more signage and directions for people about what to bring, where to go, and where to queue once they get there.

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