Originally: Haiti Study Group

Haiti Democracy Project

Haiti Study Group, June 18, 2009. Supreme Court West Conference Room, Washington, D.C.

Subject: Presentation of report of Haiti Democracy Project electoral observers on the April 19, 2009 senatorial elections in Haiti

Ambassador Ernest H. Preeg, chairman of the organization, convened the meeting. Present was Prof. Edward P. Joseph of Johns Hopkins University, the leader of our April electoral mission; Rev. Garry Théodate, Peterson Laplante, Jerry Gourdain, Elda Pinchinat, all Haiti Democracy Project electoral observers; a former employee of the Haitian electoral commission; Sen. Rudolph H. Boulos; Richard A. Morse, owner of the Olafsson Hotel and RAM band; Haitian hotel-owner; representatives of the State Department, Organization of American States, Haitian embassy, and leading thinktanks; and interested members of the public.

James R. Morrell, executive director of the organization, presented the report.

The Haiti Democracy Project had sent eleven accredited foreign observers to the April elections; a twelfth joined for post-electoral observation. They deployed in Port-au-Prince and the Nord and Nord-Est provinces. The observers’ report emphasized these issues:

1. Extremely low voter turnout

Some 10 to 12 percent of registered voters cast ballots. For those of us who witnessed the Haitian elections of February 2006, where voters waited for hours in long lines in the sun, the absence of voters was striking. As Professor Edward P. Joseph, our mission leader, told the Associated Press on election day, “When you see this kind of low turnout, you have to wonder how interested people are in an election.”

Four main factors appeared to be responsible:

a. Fatigue with the government of René Préval: voters abstained to show their dissatisfaction
b. Exclusion of a major party, Lavalas
c. Logistical difficulties such as a ban on public transportation
d. Traditionally lower turnout for non-presidential elections

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church, which sent five hundred observers, reported, “People identified the senate with corruption and scandals.” The Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains said, “The population boycotted the elections.”
2. Assault on the vote in the Central Plateau

On April 19, the electoral commission annulled the elections in the Department of the Centre after a series of violent incidents and invasion of polling places. A number of government officials and candidates were implicated, chief among the Willot Joseph, a senatorial candidate for the l’Union des Citoyen Haïtiens pour la Démocratie et le Développement party. The UCADDE has been described in the Haitian press as close to the Haitian government.

Eight years ago, Amnesty International reported that Joseph, then a mayor, had threatened to kill a local prosecutor who had accused two supporters of Joseph of theft. Joseph formed armed gangs to run his area.

On the morning of April 19, 2009, poll workers in the Central Plateau town of Pandiassou, outside the provincial capital Hinche, stuffed ballot boxes with ballots for Joseph on orders of their superiors. In nearby Papaye, the representatives of President Préval’s former party Lespwa, now a rival to Joseph’s party, vandalized the voting center in retaliation. A poll worker there was severely beaten when he refused to abandon his post.

After chasing out the electoral officials and stuffing the ballot boxes at five voting centers, Joseph and his supporters forced electoral officials to sign the returns at gunpoint. His supporters appeared at the polling places without voting cards and voted multiple times.

The Haiti Democracy Project commends the electoral commission for annulling this election. If this step was suggested to it by the United Nations mission in Haiti, then it is to be commended as well.

The Haiti Democracy Project also commends the many electoral workers who braved threats and beatings to stay on the job or give depositions. Theirs is the courage that will put Haiti on its upward path.

In 2006, the Haiti Democracy sent six accredited foreign observers to the Central Plateau. In April 2009 the constraints on our resources prevented us from deploying there, but we have relied on the report of the excellent Mobile Institute for Democratic Education.

Click here to continue elections report


A Haitian founding board member of Haiti Democracy Project:

After observing four elections, three in 2006 and one on April 19, 2009, and looking back as far as the election of 1997 and May 2000, one does come up with certain recurrent elements.

In the May 2000 elections, there was over 60-percent participation and then when they watched their votes being trashed in the street, the second-round participation went down to single digits.

Similarly, in observing the recent past election:

1) The Haitians are politically mature and very much interested in investing themselves in elections to put their candidates into office. This is especially the case locally, at the level of the commune and communal section with elections for Délégué de Ville and mayor, and the Assembly of the Communal Section (ASEC) and the Administrative Council of the Communal Section (CASEC).

2) Haitian citizens will come out and vote in local elections when they feel that there is a good chance that the electoral commission is impartial. An example was May, 2000. And they will stay away from the polling booth when they perceive that the election is being manipulated by Port-au-Prince.

Of the three rounds of election in 2006, the first round was perfect in being free, fair and without manipulation. Then, as the operators of manipulation were able to witness that there was no control over the outcome, they started to use the old gimmicks to control the outcome and on the third round, one could see an increase in manipulation.

In the elections, when they are done under a transitional government like those of 1990 and 2006, there is less interest for the central power in Port-au-Prince to try to control the results. So, it is imperative to have an independent electoral council.

The April 19 election was a farce as far as the Haitian citizen saw it. They did not participate, except in the Nord-Est where the turnout was the highest of any department. This was because they were solicited to cast blank votes, and we had 60 percent more blank votes there than votes received by any candidate.

The stuffing of the ballot boxes was done in a scandalous manner in the Central Plateau, Milot, Acul du Nord, Port-au-Prince and the Nord-Est. But this was the tip of the iceberg, and in most departments this was repeated over and over again in many voting centers.

We do conclude that elections still can mobilize the Haitians to go out and vote. They are still believers in electing their officials, even if so far they have nothing positive in changes to their lives to show for it. But at a minimum they request above all that their vote be respected and counted.

They will continue to do their civic duty and vote and even if they do have questions as to the effectiveness of investing in elections, that is the only time in their lives that they feel that they can give notice to Port-au-Prince of their appreciation or lack of it for the job that is being done for them. Most of all, that is the only time that they are counted and feel a sense of belonging to a nation-state.
An expert with experience in the matter of Haitian elections:

The elections of April 19, 2009 can be seen from two points of view; first from that of the international community, which found them “technically valid”; and second from that of the Haitian people, who saw them entirely differently.

From the viewpoint of one who has closely followed the activities of the electoral council, it is clear that this council was willing to violate its own electoral law.

1. Creation of a permanent CEP. The constitution of 1987 allowed one provisional CEP only.  Nevertheless, we have never had a permanent CEP. The reason is that such a body would escape the control of the executive branch. That is why it was never created. With a provisional council, the members are at the mercy of the executive branch financially. (Article 289.http://haiti.org/images/stories/pdf/1987_constitution.pdf)

The process of local-level elections needed to nominate a permanent CEP would only take sixty days. The process could create a permanent CEP that would escape the control of the executive.

2. The exclusion of Lavalas. This was done in spite of procedures in the electoral law defining the manner in which a party designates its candidates. The electoral commission created a problem where it did not have to have one. It used the situation to exclude certain candidates.

3. Location of voting centers. These were regulated by Article 138-1 in the election law which says that their locations are to be posted thirty days before election day. Despite this, many voters could not find where they were supposed to vote on election day.

4. Poll workers. According to Article 140, they are to be drawn from lists submitted by political parties. In no case can two belong to the same party. In the event, no one could verify the list. It was never published. This is why we had ballot-stuffing in many locations. (Article 140. Les Membres des Bureaux de Vote sont recrutés par tirage au sort public au jour et à l’heure fixée par le Président du BEC et en accord avec les représentants des partis politiques, sur une liste préalablement fournie par ces derniers au moins soixante (60) jours avant le scrutin. En aucun cas, un Bureau de Vote ne peut comporter plus d’un (1) représentant d’un parti, groupement politique ou regroupement de partis politiques.)

5. The voter list. It was supposed to be posted thirty days before the election day. It was sent out the day before, leading to many people not knowing where they were supposed to vote. (Article 33. Les Listes Electorales Partielles sont envoyées aux BED et aux BEC afin d’être rendues publiques et affichées dans les différentes circonscriptions correspondantes, dans un délai de trente (30) jours avant la tenue du scrutin.)

6. Identity card. In 2006, we matched names to fingerprints. We only had five thousand who tried to register twice. When this CEP published the list, they put the NIF, national ID number, on the list, removing a key control. This was contrary to the procedures of Article 161 of the electoral law. (Article 161. Avant d’admettre l’électeur à voter, le Président du Bureau de Vote vérifie si ce dernier:
a) N’a pas déjà voté;b) Est inscrit sur le Registre Electoral; c) Est muni de sa Carte d’Identification Nationale (CIN).
Article 161.1 Le secrétaire inscrit le numéro de la carte de l’électeur sur la liste d’émargement.)

7. Tabulation center. For the 2006 elections, it was open. This CEP has closed it.
A Haiti Democracy Project election observer:

Before the elections, there were concerns about logistics, training, and violence. In the areas we observed, we didn’t have significant violence, nor were there significant problems with the logistics or training.

As to the training, the young people working in the polling places were dedicated and did their jobs. This leads us to a balanced view of the elections, which were not a complete disaster.

Let’s not lose sight of the real problem, which was the low turnout. This problem went beyond the technical aspects.

Our election report does not raise political issues, as that is not the place for them.

The international community has sent a strong mission to Haiti. We, the international community, should focus on the rule of law and the constitution. We should stick to that. We’re less effective if we get drawn into political disputes. We should keep it on the institutions, on making them rule-based. We should stay away from saviors and devils.
A Haiti Democracy Project election observer:

Unfortunately in Haiti, the political side is all-controlling. It is right to try to separate politics from these institutions. But in the case of the CEP, the president appointed his own people to run it from the start. From that point on the political side became inescapable.

A resident in Haiti:

I didn’t like the 2000 election because of the attacks against the opposition.

There’s a collectivity in Haiti, among the people. People tend to do things together. Boycotting this election, because of lack of trust, is something that the people did deliberately and together. They looked askance at those few who did vote, as they were not on message. The message was that we understand this election is a sham, and we are not going to be duped. In fact there were very few who did vote in Port-au-Prince—the polling places were deserted.

An expert with experience in Haitian elections:

Responding to a question about the responsibility of political parties in the elections and the effect of these elections on those scheduled in November 2009.

Yes, the political parties have a responsibility, which they have not met. They played along with the system when they should have been correcting it.

As to the effect on scheduled elections in November 2009, these April elections were already a year and a half late.

In August 2007, Jacques Bernard, the administrator of the 2006 elections, testified before the Haitian senate that elections by November 2007, when they were due, were still possible if one went to work immediately and seriously. Shortly after that, Bernard was called before a prosecutor for questioning. That was a message from the executive to intimidate him after his testimony.

The international community pressed for the elections. In December, 2007, Bernard was called back to administer them. He told President Préval that one had to keep the same formula that was used successfully in 2006. Nevertheless, in three weeks, those regulations were completely rewritten in the National Palace. They set up the members of the electoral council as both administrators and judges of their own administration. At this, Bernard resigned.

Under these regulations or bylaws, the president of the CEP had all the power; not even the rest of the board had power.

As for the elections due this November, they won’t take place then.

A Haiti Democracy Project election observer:

One ought not take flaws in the election and use them in a vendetta against the president. He was duly elected. One should focus on the relevant institutions.

It isn’t serving Haiti to turn it into a campaign to push out Préval. Who would follow him? Why wouldn’t we have the same problem? It is best to stick to the institutions. Don’t make it anti-Préval.

We are here today in a conference room of the U.S. Supreme Court. We have a balance in our institutions, which doesn’t exist in Haiti. Haitians don’t have confidence in their institutions, nor do outsiders. Haiti needs a victory. One area would be education. It is a scandal that most schools are private. There should be public schools. With proper assistance, we can get there.

A board member of the Haiti Democracy Project:

We, the Haiti Democracy Project, have never called for undermining Préval or the elected government. We do assess elections.

A Haiti Democracy Project election observer:

The country was closed down the day before elections. It was like a snowstorm in the United States.

The few people who went to vote often couldn’t find their names at the polling places.

An elections expert:

No one here has called for the overthrow of Préval. But bad elections do lead to political instability.