Prepared by John Merrilll for the Haiti Democracy Project Observers’ Team . With a supplement by Elmide Meleance
During the first round of Haitian presidential and legislative elections on February 7, 2006, approximately 300 international observers from a number of countries and international organizations and upwards of 140,000 national observers participated in the electoral process. International observers sponsored by the Haiti Democracy Project (HDP) and credentialed by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) observed the electoral process at a variety of locations, including multiple voting centers in Petion-ville, Delmas, Carrefour, Leogane, Cité Soleil. Other teams covered Cap-Haitien, Milot, Grand Riviere du Nord, and other locations in the Nord department. Another team covered the Nord-Est department including Ouanaminthe, Fort Liberte, Ferrier, Acul des Pins, Haut Mairbahoux, and a number of other locations.
In most areas, large numbers of Haitians cast ballots in what appeared to be a free and fair but marginally-organized process, without violence, coercion, or apparent manipulation. Initial problems (late opening of voting centers, late delivery of voter lists, disorganization due to poor planning and a very large early turnout) were generally overcome during the course of the day. Operating hours were extended up to three hours to accommodate voters who could not cast ballots even though they presented themselves within normal voting hours (6:00 AM to 4:00 PM) because the voting process itself was too slow.
This initial report is based heavily on observations in and around Port-au-Prince. Experiences were not uniform at all locations, but were sufficiently consistent to produce recommendations to improve future rounds of voting that can be applied nationwide. Pre-election day observations based on visits to CEP headquarters, one voting center, and Haitian National Police (HNP) and UNPOL police facilities are included in this report. HDP observers did not witness ballot tabulation center operations, although planning and security for such operations appeared adequate.
It should be noted also that the balloting conducted on February 7 benefited from favorable but unpredictable conditions that are beyond the direct control of election officials or observers. These included favorable weather conditions, lack or widespread or organized violence, and a high tolerance among the Haitian people for systemic delays and inefficiencies. Had any of those conditions been different-for example, if heavy rains or extreme heat were present-the ability of certain large voting centers to sustain operations throughout the day would have been severely compromised. In many cases, voting tables were located outdoors because indoor capacity was inadequate. In most indoor locations visited, lighting was inadequate, electric power was unavailable, and access was difficult.
* Ballots and voting paraphernalia (but not voter lists) appear to have been distributed, pre-positioned, and secured successfully.
* Voting Center officials and some CEP security augmentees were present at a voting center visited prior to Election Day, both to secure materials and provide guidance to poll workers. However, officials frequently were unclear on specific responsibilities of poll workers and were in some instances unable to answer questions relating to a poll worker’s specific assignments on Election Day.
* CEP Headquarters had substantial difficulties producing a current listing of voting centers/locations less than 24 hours prior to balloting.
* Although voter I.D. cards played a key positive role in creating enthusiasm and voter interest, automated card procedures did not make adequate allowance for changes to voting locations, requiring manual entry of each location affixed to the I.D. cards. Automated number coding included on the reverse of the cards to direct voters to specific voting locations was not comprehensible to many voters.
Election Day Operations:
* A high percentage of prospective voters, some officials have estimated as comprising an absolute majority of those intending to cast ballots, arrived at voting centers prior to the official opening time of 6:00 AM. At virtually all centers visited with the single exception of the Prefecture housing the offices of the Interim Prime Minister, voting sites were unprepared to deal with the volume of early voters and were quickly overwhelmed. Long and unmanageable lines formed, made worse by the delayed opening of many centers. Despite pre-positioning of materials, some centers did not open for up to four or five hours after the official starting time because voter lists or official personnel were unavailable.
* Voters were allowed to enter voting centers more rapidly than those who had already voted were compelled to depart. Too few election officials and security personnel (including both Haitian and UNPOL) were on-hand to deal with the crowds, both inside and outside the voting centers. UNPOL personnel were deployed in numbers too small proactively to prevent or alleviate overcrowding of voting centers.
* Where possible, voting centers need designated exits as well as entry points, with direct communication/coordination among UNPOL, Haitian police and security augmentees to require voters who had completed marking ballots to exit promptly thereafter. Some centers (e.g., Lyceé de Guatemala, co-located with Lyceé de Uruguay) had no separate exit. Others (e.g., Lyceé de Petion-ville, Cité Soleil/Industrial Park, Upper Delmas) had a designated exit, but most voters were not using it. In these instances, no organized effort was made to compel people to leave. As a consequence, there was no way of knowing whether large numbers of people who gathered within a voting center were waiting to vote but had failed to locate their individual voting station, had already voted, or had voting rights denied because their names did not appear on voter lists even though their voter I.D. card indicated that they were at their proper voting location. Moreover, there was no standard local means to accommodate voters who possessed valid voter I.D. cards but whose names did not appear on voter lists, and no uniform process for dealing with such voters. Supervisors of voting centers improvised, in some cases allowing such individuals to vote while setting aside for later validation ballots marked by those individuals.
* Throughput at voting centers must be improved significantly. Especially at large centers containing 20 to over 40 individual voting tables, there was no apparent pre-established procedure for directing voters once inside the voting center. Many voting centers were overwhelmed by volume because people were allowed to enter too rapidly. The pace of exit by those who have completed voting must dictate the pace of entry by new groups of voters. Within voting centers, those entering need to be channeled by fixed barriers into a line or lines to election officials capable of directing individuals to appropriate voting tables. Press/media were permitted inside some voting centers and conducted on-the-scene interviews with candidates, further disrupting the process.
* Choke points quickly developed within voting centers and at voting tables for a variety of other reasons:
o Some names and pictures on voter lists were not printed in alphabetical order, making it difficult to find names of voters quickly and requiring extra time for voters to cast their ballots. Requiring officials to sign the reverse of completed ballots slowed the process further. Although this step presumably was intended as an anti-corruption measure to prevent later marking of unmarked ballots, signatures were not verified.
o Voting stations had little structural integrity. Using a small bench divided with lightweight paper board for 3-4 voters to place their ballots and vote often collapsed and needed to be reassembled because lightweight paper board privacy screens kept braking apart; requiring voting to stop so the cardboard could be reconstructed. Had even moderate rain been present, such devices could not be used. For safety purposes there are measures to be taken while reconstruction you can check here to see more.
o Although ballots and voting stations were pre-positioned, voter lists often arrived late and some names of voters were missing. Some lists arrived late in the morning and some as late as 2:00 PM. This caused some voters who had waited for hours to depart in frustration. It is not known what percentage of such voters returned at a later time. In Cité Soleil, voting did not begin until 10:30 AM. In centers such as the Industrial Park, voting was slowed by poor lighting and would have ceased entirely by about 4:30 PM, with thousands still waiting to vote, had not HDP observers contacted senior CEP and UN/ MINUSTAH officials and pressed for generators and artificial lighting to be installed. There were no contingency plans for such circumstances.
o There appeared to be no planning for emergency evacuation of voters requiring immediate medical attention. Even when MINUSTAH personnel were present with an ambulance, as occurred at a site in Upper Delmas, Jordanian troops refused to use that capability for voters, advising observers that ambulance equipment was for use of MINUSTAH personnel only.
As a consequence of lack of CEP planning and procedures for voting center operations, voting was unnecessarily delayed during the initial 3-4 hours in most locations. Due to the goodwill and patience of the average Haitian voter, locally determined fixes to process problems appeared to allow most Haitian who were determined to vote to do so eventually during the course of the day, but those fixes were not uniform.
Management Planning for March 19
The plan should set out the key issues to be addressed and deal with lessons learned from February 7, 2006. It should identify the various key operational areas and who will be responsible for each. The strategic plan should set out the overall principles for the work of the electoral management body. The operational plan should then apply these principles to the specific electoral task(s) involved and prepare a detailed plan which will put a time frame and programmed action against each of the activities.
This plan need not be complex or lengthy. At individual voting centers, for example, a single-page directive could advise local officials of steps that must be taken in every case (e.g. installation of fixed cordons to channel incoming voters to officials who can further direct them to voting tables), and “if, then” directives telling local officials what to do when the process fails (e.g., what to do with voters who possess valid I.D. cards but whose names do not appear on voter lists, what to do if it rains, what to do if voting must continue into hours of darkness to accommodate those already in line by 4:00 PM).
Learning from the February 7 Election:
Strategic planning of the next election process should focus on what happened on February 7th. A review of the strengths and weaknesses of the last electoral process is essential. Electoral work is normally repetitive and the lessons learned during the last election must be taken into account in planning for March 19th. The same issues and problems often come up time after time during the electoral process – polling sites are poorly laid out causing delays and confusion, the vote counting is conducted in cramped, poorly-lit conditions with poor layout and organization, or poll workers in one site deal with a situation differently from those in another site due to inadequate training. One must ensure that problems experienced during the last electoral process have been identified and include in the strategic plan to make sure that they do not recur.
If the problems are beyond the control of the electoral management body or electoral manager, they must be highlighted and contingency planning must be done. For example, if installation of lighting to accommodate late voting or voting in inclement weather simply is not feasible in some areas, the CEP could distribute/preposition large numbers of inexpensive self-rechargeable flashlights. If a disaster occurs, officials should focus not only on the logistical aspects of conducting the election, but also on the necessity of defending steps taken to complete the process.
Some February 7th problems can be avoided by making electoral officials available to voters prior to March 19th to validate their voting location, for example. Some problems can be mitigated by media, such as encouraging voters to present themselves for voting throughout the day, rather than appearing at 6:00 AM.
There may be other issues to include in contingency planning. The important point for the CEP and UN Mission personnel to recognize is that however good the system and the people operating it and however well planned the process may be, problems (hopefully small but occasionally very large) will occur. These problems may be totally beyond the control of designated officials, but if there is a proper contingency plan, the issue will be minimized and the response should be defensible. If electoral officials have no contingency or emergency plan, a problem that does not necessarily impact the electoral outcome may be used by disappointed candidates or parties as a rationale for discrediting the electoral process itself.