Originally: IFES Reports Observations from Haiti?s Runoff Elections
International observers from IFES monitored the April 21 legislative elections in a continuation of the organization?s long-term observation mission, which began almost eight months ago. Nine IFES teams visited election authorities and conducted intensive observations on election day throughout the country. Provisional Election Commission (CEP) officials at all levels, MINUSTAH and the Haitian people welcomed the observers and provided open cooperation.
While still reviewing observation data, IFES can state that it observed improvement in comparison to the last round of elections in February and that Haitian voters had the opportunity to express their will freely. IFES also notes that the lower turnout of voters and the simpler contest?two elections instead of three with far fewer candidates?meant that Haiti?s electoral process was not fully tested. However, IFES still observed some significant problems even with the reduced burden placed on the electoral system.
IFES observed significant improvement in the capabilities of election staff, both in polling stations and at the level of supervisors and managers. This is probably due to more intensive training for election staff combined with the experience they obtained during the first round. Election officials consistently demonstrated a greater grasp of their duties over the February elections. IFES observers were impressed with the stamina, dedication and scrupulousness of polling station staff members, especially during vote counting and closing operations. IFES sees great potential in these election workers as allies in the further development of Haitian institutions and democratic processes. At the same time, IFES hopes to see that Departmental Election Office (BED) staff members demonstrate comparable improvement and high levels of performance with the challenging contestation period approaching. During the April election, improved communication between the CEP headquarters in Port-au-Prince and BEDs and Communal Election Offices (BECs) led to greater involvement and responsiveness among junior level staff. However, the lack of a means to communicate quickly to voting centers remains a concern.
Observers also noted a general improvement in voter orientation at voting centers. The clear display of voters? lists at the centers made it easier for voters to access their correct polling stations. However, assistance to voters and signage at individual polling stations remained uneven. Polling stations mostly opened within a reasonable time period, with some delays. However, once the stations opened most were properly equipped. The addition of lanterns at polling stations was a useful innovation, as was the decision to provide food and drink for CEP workers, had it been fully implemented.
Pre-printing key information on proces verbaux (polling station tally sheets) made tabulating ballots at closing time a quicker and more accurate process. However, in at least one commune, misprints created substantial confusion at voting centers. Innovations at the “intake centers,” established in each of Haiti?s ten departments, appeared to yield benefits in speed at the national tabulation center in Port-au-Prince.
Despite the improvements in the election process, IFES observed several continuing problems. First among these is the voters? list. IFES observed voters who arrived at polling stations only to find that their names were not on the voters? list, although their card indicated they were in the right place. Officials seemed to have no consistent way to resolve this problem. Neither allowing voters to cast ballots by adding their names to ad-hoc lists nor refusing them is a satisfactory solution. The first solution opens the door to double-voting, while the second one denies a motivated part of the electorate the right to vote. Last-minute decisions by the CEP to allow voters in some observed areas to cast ballots where they were registered but did not show up on the list appeared only to increase confusion. Likewise, polling station staff appeared confused or unaware of the recent CEP rule that prohibited mandataires (political party observers) from voting in the polling station where they were posted if they were not on the list. In most cases, it appeared that the new rule was not enforced.
Guaranteeing voters an acceptable degree of secrecy during voting continues to be an issue in some places. While generally the elections proceeded without security incidents, IFES directly observed acts of intimidation that appeared orchestrated. Election-day campaigning occurred in parts of Artibonite, as well as in voting centers near Jacmel. In the country?s largest “mega-center,” located in Port-au-Prince near Cité Soleil, observers witnessed multiple violations of election procedures. Among the violations observed were: multiple voting, lack of inking, the ability of mandataires and others to hover over voters, and an uneven check of voter identity. It is important to point out that while these incidents are a cause for concern, they do not render the elections invalid.
Polling station staff in many centers around Haiti still appeared to struggle with some closing procedures. Despite the inclusion of a picture book, the complex packing procedures still seemed to confuse staff. Likewise, polling station staff continued, in some cases, to denote unused ballots as blank ones. IFES believes that there is an inherent weakness in the reconciliation process and calculation of the turnout because poll workers are not required to write the number of voters originally appearing on the list and the number of new voters added to the list on the proces verbaux.
Finally, the CEP should look into causes for the lower turnout of voters. While Haiti?s “presidential culture,” a sluggish campaign and other issues led to a lack of enthusiasm, limited understanding of the parliament?s role and the limited number of voting centers (especially in rural areas) are inherent problems that election officials, political parties and civil society should address. Although some annexes were added, more steps should be taken to provide rural voters the right to vote without undertaking an hours-long trek. IFES will soon complete its final observation report in which it will include the mission?s findings and a complete list of recommendations.