Presidential Elections in Haiti: The Most Votes Money Can Buy

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Presidential Elections in Haiti: The Most Votes Money Can Buy

Partially burned ballots lie on the backyard of an abandoned house in the neighborhood of Delmas 41 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. (Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AP)

On Monday, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced that the preliminary results of the October 25 presidential and legislative elections, expected to be announced today, would be delayed until Thursday. The delay has been attributed to the formation of a committee by the CEP to investigate allegations of fraud coming from political parties and local observer groups. The committee consists of five members of the electoral council. Of the 162 complaints received, the committee says 43 are being followed up on, though few are placing their trust in the process. 

The elections were praised after there were only a few sporadic outbursts of violence, leading many in the international community to quickly conclude that there were few problems. Just as it had done in August, the Organization of American States (OAS) proclaimed the day after the vote that any problems “did not affect the overall course of the election.” After violence shut down nearly one out of every six voting centers in the August legislative elections, this was apparently the new standard by which to judge the elections.

At least a half-dozen leading presidential candidates have come out before results are even announced to denounce widespread fraud in favor of the government’s candidate, Jovenèl Moïse. The allegations have been wide ranging: replacement of ballot boxes with fakes distributed by ambulances, mass ballot box stuffing, and burning of ballots for opposition candidates. Little proof has been provided to back up these claims. But the most blatant example was there for everyone to see on election day, and was in fact anticipated by electoral officials and international observers.

In Haiti’s elections, political party monitors, called mandataires, are allowed inside voting areas in order to ensure the impartiality of electoral officials and to sign off on the count at the end of the day. In August’s first-round legislative election, these party monitors cried foul, as not enough accreditation passes were printed and only some were allowed in during the vote.

In response, the CEP flooded the parties with passes. In total, over 916,000 were distributed according to the organization’s president, Pierre Louis Opont. Unlike average voters, whose identification must be checked with the electoral list at the polling center where they are registered, monitors are allowed to vote wherever they are present. This became, in many ways, an election of mandataires.

International and local observers have estimated turnout at between 25 and 30 percent, meaning there were roughly 1.6 million voters. With over 900,000 accreditation passes for monitors, and thousands more for observation groups (whose members are subject to the same open voting rules), it means over 50 percent of votes could come from these groups.

All 54 candidates vying for the presidency received more than 13,700 passes, enough to be present at each voting booth in the country. Few, however, had the capacity or the money to actually use them. The result was that parties sold them to the highest bidder in the days leading up to the vote. Local observers said passes were going for as much as $30. By Sunday, they were going for as little as a few dollars.

The system for monitoring the vote had turned into a black market for vote buying, where those with the most money were most able to take advantage. And it was entirely predictable.

Recognizing the potential problem, there was an effort in the weeks before the vote to have the mandataires register with specific voting centers, allowing poll workers to better monitor and track their votes. It never happened. Instead, mandataires’ information was taken down on a blank sheet of paper by poll workers. Sometimes even this didn’t happen.

While monitors’ accreditation passes were supposed to be marked after voting and their fingers marked with indelible ink, local observers found that these measures were not always taken, “allowing certain representatives to vote several times.” 

It wasn’t just through the black market that parties could use this to their advantage, however. There is also a problem stemming from the law regulating political party formation, which allows parties to form with as few as 20 members. This led to a proliferation of parties over the past couple of years culminating in 128 parties registering candidates for legislative, local and presidential elections.

Opposition parties and political observers estimate that at least a dozen parties are participating only as proxies for the government. Though any actor could benefit from these flaws, it’s only the larger parties with resources who truly could take advantage of them.

Now, all eyes are turned on the Central Tabulation Center, located in an industrial park in Haiti’s capital, where the 13,725 tally sheets from each voting booth across the country are being inputted into the system and checked for fraud.  With more than 99 percent finalized, 489 have been quarantined for irregularities, 3.6 percent of the total. It is unclear, though, how many were fraudulent and how many simply suffered from clerical errors, rendering them void.

Local observers have called for transparency at the tabulation center and are requesting an audit be performed to determine the “degree and extent of the involvement of people who used political party representative or observer cards to vote.” Relatedly, the observers are requesting the CEP to investigate “The quantity and legality of the number of votes cast by voters whose names were not listed at the polling station where they voted.”

On Tuesday, eight presidential candidates backed up the calls from local human rights groups and asked the CEP to allow the formation of an independent committee to investigate these issues.

But actually doing this is no simple task. Each of the 13,725 voting booths in Haiti produces a tally sheet at the end of the day. These sheets are then brought to the central tabulation center where they are scanned into the computer system. Technicians can check and ensure that voters from the electoral list correspond with those who voted and can perform other checks for irregularities.

Checking for fraud in off-list voting is more complex. Because the names were written down on a blank sheet of paper, technicians would need to manually enter all of these, likely hundreds of thousands. These would then need to be cross-checked to ensure that monitors with the same ID were not voting at multiple locations. Even with this, it is likely that only a fraction of these voters were ever accounted for on election day by poll workers. With pressure to release the results as soon as possible, and with over 99 percent already entered into the system, it is unlikely that the hard work of actually accounting for all of these voters will ever be done.

With up to hundreds of thousands of voting passes for sale, it’s not hard to see how Haiti’s presidential election could be won by those with the fattest pockets. 

Jake Johnston

Jake Johnston is an international researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He writes on Haiti related issues for the blog Relief and Reconstruction Watch.

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