Originally: Haiti Project Fields 58 Observers

This is an early report of a mission that is still in the process of analyzing the observation reports we have received.

Most of the Haiti Democracy Project’s 50 observers fielded in the Nord-Est Department reported invasions of the voting centers by partisans of Jude Célestin which forced the at-least temporary closing of these centers. Not only were the voters scared away, so were most of our Haitian-national observers who abandoned their observation and so missed the closing and count if these indeed took place. My tour of the voting centers in the Ouanaminthe area took me away from the biggest downtown centers during the afternoon, and I missed seeing these incursions, but I believe they took place more or less as reported. By luck, I arrived at a voting center away from downtown and witnessed a totally normal count of the same high quality as the elections of 2006, except that turnout was much lower. I stayed with my Haitian partner all the way to the delivery to MINUSTAH. At that single BV (polling place) that I observed, it was 76 for Manigat, 15 for Célestin. A tally sheet from an adjoining BV showed a similar result.

I wasn’t too happy with our observers missing the count, if it indeed took place in their voting centers, and I believe in some cases they might have exaggerated the degree of disruption, perhaps to justify their leaving their posts. But the scenes they described were indeed scary, and if it was even half as they described, I wouldn’t have stayed either. In the main, I do find their reports of the Celestin forces’ invasions broadly credible, after two days of close questioning and review of the questionnaires (to be posted).

As we were driving around late that afternoon to check the conditions at the voting centers, after the reports of our observers about the violent invasions, the streets were a little spooky and we had to turn around when we saw a big demonstration heading in our direction. I did hear shots, which I never heard before here in my previous five visits. The gates at the Ecole National de Ouanaminthe and the George Muller center were indeed locked, as our observers had reported, and no one was outside.

Demonstrations continued today with a report that a Haitian woman had been shot by the Dominican army. Tear gas wafted over our observers’ meeting place and people ran up the street. The smoke of burning tires was visible down the street. 

The fact, however, that there were invasions leaves open the question of how severe they were and how well the electoral apparatus withstood them. There had also been an invasion of the voting center I covered, which sent our electoral observers running, but an hour or two later all was calm and the BV personnel were compiling results which in no way favored Célestin. The five party poll watchers and the single national observer from the CNO had never left their BV. So it is unclear how much that particular invasion accomplished, apart perhaps from earning the pay of the rent-a-mob in question.

What happened in the bigger downtown centers after the invasion remains unclear. The front doors were locked and when some of our observers returned to try to resume their observation, no one answered. What was going on inside? Were the election officials conducting a count by themselves, or with those few of the poll watchers and observers who braved the invasions in the courtyard? Our election observers, after reporting the voting and the invasions in great detail, offer nothing on this question. There may be a simple answer, but so far I don’t have it.

There was an assault on the elections in Ouanaminthe by the government party. Its severity varied by voting center. Whether it succeeded in its aims is more complicated. Normally, it is difficult to shut down a voting center, as Prof. Henry F. Carey has noted. The BV officials may have continued their work and recorded the results properly, or they may have altered the results behind the closed doors of these voting centers after so many if not all of the voters, party poll watchers, and observers were forced to leave. As the chart we posted indicates, too many of the electoral officials were from the government party, as indeed was the head of the BEC. That’s the hard part to figure out here in Ouanaminthe. We’ll try to zero in on this question as we analyze our observer reports in the coming days.