Registered voters shunning verification centres risk missing national IDs

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Hundreds of national ID cards lie uncollected at some centres in Mzuzu City that the Malawi Electoral Commission reopened on Saturday for the fourth and final phase of voter verification.

During the final phase, registered voters in Mzimba and surrounding districts in Northern Malawi are expected to inspect the voters roll and verify their voter data ahead of the polls on May 21 this year.

A registered voter collecting his national ID after verifying his data in the 2019 voters roll at Katoto Primary School in Mzuzu

A visit to Mzuzu  CCAP School Centre on Saturday, the first day of the voter verification exercise, revealed that hundreds  national ID cards  are still bundled in a National Registration Bureau  (NRB)  box awaiting collection.

Mzuzu CCAP Centre Supervisor, Maggie Chunga said that although the voter verification exercise had started on a good note, there was need for more registrants to go and collect their national IDs and to verify their voter data in the voter verification exercise.

“So far 20 people have come. They should come and collect their cards [national IDs] and to verify their names. Verification is important, they need to know if they are in the voters register so that they have that confidence to come and vote during the elections,” Chunga said.

In a press statement issued on Friday January 4, 2019, MEC called on registered voters to take advantage of the current voter verification exercise to collect their IDs from the centres.

“The Commission in collaboration with the National Registration Bureau (NRB) will, alongside the voter verification exercise, distribute national IDs to all Malawians that had registered during the time of voter registration. Registrants are therefore encouraged to go to the centres where they registered and collect their national ID,” reads part of the statement.

In the 2019 Electoral cycle, MEC is leveraging on various digital technologies to improve efficiency. The electoral body has already rolled out  a free mobile phone technology service which uses the USSD Code *2019#   to enable registered voters  to  verify their voter data  on their mobile phones  on TNM and Airtel Networks while the physical voter verification and inspection exercise progresses.

However, low digital literacy levels in Malawi have caused other registered voters to completely shun the centres, the only place where the National IDs are being issued as the *2019# USSD is only for verification of voter details.

However, in Friday’s statement, the Electoral Body reminded registered voters in the Northern Region to still visit the centres for challenges that cannot be resolved through the mobile voter verification service.

“If there are any errors in the registration information or the system responds that the details are not available, voters are encouraged to visit the centre where they registered to be assisted accordingly,” reads Friday’s statement from the electoral body.

Despite numerous challenges, MEC has been hailed by development partners for registering 6.8 million voters in the first ever digitized voter registration exercise.

Malawi’s 6.8 million registered voters are  expected to cast their votes and decide the future of the country in the May 21 Tripartite Election where President Professor Peter Mutharika is being challenged by  Vice President Dr Saulos Chilima and the country’s Leader of Opposition, Dr  Lazarus Chakwera among others.

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