Election Preparations

December 2 , 2006 (Port-au-Prince and vicinity):

By John Merrill

(Haiti Democracy Project election observer on February 7, April 21, and December 2?3, 2006. Director for transnational issues, Latin America, Office of the Secretary of Defense.)

On Saturday prior to elections, elements of the Haiti Democracy Project team visited a sample of voting sites and PNH stations in and around Port-au-Prince to assess preparations, availability and security of voting materials, operational procedures, and staff on-hand.

Generally speaking, sites visited displayed increasing competence in administration and logistics over prior balloting in February and April, 2006. Most sites had voter lists prominently displayed. Where ballots and other materials were on hand, they were secured satisfactorily. The number of poll workers and domestic observers was generally adequate. Plans for “throughput” of voters, including requiring individuals to leave the site after voting, were marginally better than in previous rounds, although there appeared to be no system in place actually to compel voters to depart. Although not likely to be needed, some sites had backup power systems (batteries and lighting) in the event voting or tabulation continued after nightfall.

The Kenscoff area was an exception. At 4:00 p.m. prior to election day, the central site for receiving and securing voting materials for the surrounding area had received nothing and personnel had no idea of when supplies would arrive.

Other problems persisted: Virtually all election officials on hand, including those directed to secure voting materials 24/7 prior to balloting, had not been paid for their services. In normal Haitian fashion, election officials continued to report for work in the hope of being paid eventually.

Expectations between election officials and the government/CEP continued to diverge: election officials expected to receive transportation to and from their assigned voting site and food and water during the day. We found no instance in which these were provided. For those charged with remaining on-site to secure ballots, no billeting was provided.

Although pre-election security appeared adequate, security planning for election day was uneven. Officials at most sites did not know whether UN or PNH officers would be present or the number of personnel allocated. Haiti Democracy Project teams visited police stations near polling places and normally found that security teams had been assigned, though often small in number. Official elections security augmentees (non-PNH) were seen at only one site. Election officials usually had no idea of what role MINUSTAH troops would play, although at one site we observed Haitian officials and MINUSTAH (Sri Lankan soldiers) working cooperatively prior to election day to prepare the site and secure ballots.

Sites visited included the following:

  • Lycée de Pétion-ville, Place St. Pierre. (28 voting stations, 16,000 voters): This site has been problematic in the past due to the large number of voters and no enforcement of throughput rules. The site was better prepared to assist voters in knowing where to vote. One hundred twenty-five poll workers/domestic observers and six PNH were assigned to be present on voting day. The local PNH commander indicated that police were instructed to arrive by 5:00 a.m.
  • Mission Baptiste de Fermathe (18 voting stations, 7,149 voters): Very well-prepared site, in which adequate numbers of poll workers and MINUSTAH troops were already on hand to set up voting tables, secure ballots, and coordinate plans for election day security and throughput.
  • Ecole St. Vincent de Paul chez PPre Matin, Thomassin 25 (combined site; 30 voting stations, 11,700 voters): Physical preparations were completed due to early delivery of materials (three days prior to balloting), but workers who had been on hand to prepare the site and secure ballots claimed they had been provided no food, water, or other essentials. We were informed by CARICOM observers who were present at the site that they planned to remain there throughout election day instead of visiting multiple locations.
  • Lycée Benoit Batraville, Laboule 13, Route de Kenscoff (7 voting stations, 2,606 voters). The site was adequately prepared physically, but workers complained as elsewhere that they had been provided no sustenance. Official election security augmentees were present at this site, though not seen elsewhere.

The existing method for providing privacy while voting was unchanged from previous elections rounds and must be considered poor. Cardboard dividers assembled on table tops do not provide any real privacy, and are set up in such close proximity to one another that it is relatively easy for observers, poll workers, and party representatives to observe ballots as they are marked.