Uganda’s EC eases restrictions on phone, camera use at polling stations

Presidential and parliamentary elections in Uganda to go ahead as scheduled on 14th January 2021 on strict COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs]

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Uganda’s Electoral Commission [EC] has eased restrictions on use of cameras and other recording devices at polling stations on election day.

Earlier this week, the chairman of the commission Justice Simon Byabakama had communicated new guidelines that would apply to the January 14, general election.

Contentious among these was the directive that voters will not be allowed to remain at polling stations after voting to witness the vote counting and a ban of cameras and selfies at the polling stations.

The ban on cameras was strangely extended to journalists as well.

Opposition political parties however questioned the legality of the directives which they say may discredit the election.

Now in a press statement issued on the 9th of January and signed by Justice Byabakama, the Electoral Commission [EC] says it has noted the concerns expressed by various stakeholders over the restriction of use of cameras and other recording devices.

In the statement, the Electoral Commission [EC] says it will allow phones at polling stations but they must not be used for recording purposes or taking photographs inside the polling stations which is the cordoned off area.

The EC has also banned voters from displaying their choice of candidate by taking a photo or video of their marked ballot papers. This measure, the EC says is in line with Article 68(1) of the constitution which provides for a secret ballot in presidential and parliamentary elections.

The Electoral Commission [EC] has however permitted a voter or a candidate’s agent to take photographs or recordings of the vote counting process and take photographs or record the issued declaration of results form.

This new communication will come as a relief to most opposition candidates and parties who were concerned that the commission was issuing directives to prohibit measures that would allow for transparency during the voting process.

Read Also: Journalists won’t require media council accreditation to cover 2021 polls – EC

In the new guidelines, the commission says that media personnel who have been accredited to cover the elections will be permitted to access polling stations and may take photographs of the voting process but outside the cordoned off area in a manner that protects the privacy of the voters and the secrecy of the ballot.

The Electoral Commission [EC] remains adamant on the issue of barring voters from staying at polling stations after casting their vote in order to witness vote counting and tallying. This directive, the EC chairperson noted is to prevent crowding in order to control the spread of COVID-19.

However, several opposition parties and candidates have vowed to defy this order and have asked their voters to ignore it.