The blank ballots should be counted as part of the total number of votes cast for the simple reason that this is the law. No political deal should be made to discard these ballots from the count. This issue of the blank ballots bedeviled the 1997 elections which led to parliamentary deadlock, resignation of the prime minister, and eventually dissolution of the parliament without a new one being elected.

“Quelque 85.000 bulletins blancs jugés suspects ont été finalement ignorés dans le décompte des suffrages, permettant à M. Préval d’éviter un deuxième tour de scrutin prévu au départ le 19 mars.” Radio Metropole reports.

The grounds on which they were judged suspect must be firmly established. Below we briefly discuss the procedures by which blank ballots and all ballots are counted.

The electoral council’s announcement stated that it had, “décidé de répartir les votes blancs au prorata des votes exprimés en faveur des candidats dans la compilation des résultats ». We are not aware of any provision for this in the electoral law.

This would be the position of the Haiti Democracy Project no matter which candidate or faction were to benefit. Such benefits to a particular party are purely temporary. Haiti benefits as a whole when the rule of law is upheld, and most of its problems can be traced to the failure to uphold the law.

As noted by one of our most highly-qualified observers,

The practice of counting unmarked ballots as part of the total ballots in the presidential election is a long-established practice in Haiti.  It was not invented to frustrate Preval’s bid for a first-round victory.  This applies to ballots that reflected other choices (total of persons voting at Site X minus total ballots not reflecting a presidential choice).  This is distinguished from unused ballots printed for people who chose not to vote at all.  As of now, 85,000 or 4.67% of the ballots counted from last week’s election did not reflect a choice for president.

If those 85,000 ballots were subtracted from the total number of voters, Preval would have 51% of the presidential vote. However, that would represent election manipulation based on past practice.  Unmarked ballots are counted as simply one of the options presented to voters (Candidate X, Candidate Y, No Candidate) and consequently lower the percentage of the vote for all candidates, not just Preval.

Preval’s concern, apart from giving his opponents an opportunity to form a coalition against him, is that the CEP is the arbiter of electoral disputes (Haitian Constitution, Title VI, Article 197). 

As Haiti’s success on February 7, 2006 shows, it is essential not to underestimate or attempt to circumvent the procedures contained in Haitian electoral law and practice to protect the integrity of the vote. Incendiary media reports of ballots on the ground overlook the fact that each and every polling place followed a strict regime of counting the total ballots, the unused ballots, the blank ballots, and the spoiled ballots, as well as the valid ballots. Pollwatchers from the various parties were present during the count by the polling-place officials. So were independent electoral observers in a great number of polling places. The electoral officials showed each and every ballot to all the pollwatchers and observers. Each of these kept their own manual count. At the conclusion of the count, the results were tabulated on a tally sheet. They were also recorded on an electoral return (proces-verbal)All of Haiti’s procedures in this regard are consistent with, and based on, similar procedures in other countries. The returns from every polling center were checked by the pollwatchers and observers, so they do not depend on electoral officials alone.

In each and every case in which there is a dispute about the vote in any of the more than ten thousand voting places in Haiti, there exist six to eight independent manual counts. They are in the hands of the local party coordinators and the headquarters of the independent observers. Ballots may be found on the ground, but once ballots have been counted in front of these many witnesses, the integrity of the count is preserved.

A deliberate decision to circumvent any part of this process, such as not counting blank ballots, would throw Haiti into turmoil just as surely as would some manipulation intended to deny a legitimate win by Preval or any other candidate.