By all accounts, Haiti’s recent vote to restore parliament and select a successor to President Michel Martelly was one of the most tranquil elections the country has seen in recent years. Whether the vote was fair and transparent is still up in the air.
Four local observer groups and opposition presidential candidates are denouncing what they say was “systematic, massive fraud” during the vote for president, parliament and local mayors. Among the allegations: ballots were stuffed in boxes during the final hours of voting, and political party monitors voted multiple times for a candidate.
On Thursday, one of the top presidential candidates, former Sen. Moise Jean-Charles, said checked ballots with his name are being burned. In response, supporters burned tire barricades in parts of the capital.
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How widespread the fraud is, and whether Haitian elections technicians can detect it, have become key questions as the country waits for the Provisional Electoral Council to deliver preliminary election results. In addition to Moise, three others — Jude Célestin, Jovenel Moise and Dr. Maryse Narcisse — believe they either won in the first round or earned enough votes for one of two spots in the Dec. 27 runoff.
If someone fraudulently votes, the fraud will be identified by the Tabulation Center via verification of the voter list,
Pierre-Louis Opont, head of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council
The vote tabulation is due any time after Nov. 3. Most of the tallies had already been delivered to a secure warehouse in Port-au-Prince, where technicians are meticulously going over the count and quarantining suspicious or fraudulent votes from 13,275 polling stations across Haiti.
This process is why Haiti, unlike its neighbors, takes at least 10 days to release preliminary election results, according to observers. As of Wednesday, 37 percent of the tallies had been processed at the Tabulation Center, where every single document must be registered, reviewed by multiple witnesses and archived. Quarantined documents are also reviewed for fraud by lawyers.
While international observers and Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul praised the elections, an avalanche of accusations and rumors about a tainted vote have emerged. At the center are charges that 915,675 accreditation cards, which were distributed to political party monitors and electoral observer organizations ahead of the Oct. 25 vote in hopes of diminishing fraud, were being sold in a thriving black market.
“For [about U.S. $30] you could obtain a card from a political party,” said Marie Yolene Gilles, assistant program director of the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), an observer group that issued a preliminary report decrying the fraud this week. On election day, they sold for as little as $3.
Fritz Dorvilier, a sociologist and political analyst, said the trafficking in cards “stained what otherwise would have been a good electoral day” compared to past elections, including the fraud-and violence-marred Aug. 9 first round legislative vote.
“The gravest problem we had in these elections was the trafficking of political party and observers’ accreditation cards. It violates all of the principles of voter participation,” he said.
With local observers estimating turnout between 25 percent and 30 percent, the party monitors made up more than half of the voters. Pierre-Louis Opont, head of the nine-member elections council, has promised scrutiny.
The trafficking in accreditation cards stained what otherwise would have been a good electoral day,
Fritz Dorvilier, a Haiti political analyst
With opposition presidential candidates accusing the government of orchestrating the fraud on behalf of its candidates, there is the possibility that more supporters will take to the streets. A member of the government-backed candidate’s team said he will not respond to “false and unfair” allegations.
Opont, aware of the building tensions, is pleading for patience and calm. “If someone fraudulently votes, the fraud will be identified by the Tabulation Center via verification of the voter list,” he said.
After Haitians voted, their thumbs were marked with black ink. But some local observers reported women wearing false nails, or voters using wax on their fingers to prevent the ink from adhering.
For [about U.S. $30] you could obtain a card from a political party,
said Marie Yolene Gilles, assistant program director of the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), a Haitian watchdog group
There has been no shortage of conspiracy theories on how the fraud happened and not everyone has strong faith in the Tabulation Center’s ability to throw out all of the bad votes. There were thousands of candidates in the elections, including 54 vying for the presidency.
“We’ll watch closely,” said presidential candidate Steven Benoit, who added he doesn’t believe the Center can do it. “Opont is facing his biggest test. His reputation is on the line.”
In an interview days before the election, Opont defended the cards as “fraud-proof,” demonstrating to a Miami Herald reporter how the corner of the card is removed after a voter has cast a ballot. But the coalition of local observers, Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA), Conseil National d’Observation des Elections (CNO), Conseil Haïtien des Acteurs Non Etatiques (CONHANE) and RNDDH, said the corner wasn’t always removed, allowing multiple votes on the same card.
They also noted that even after elections officials banned an observer group from participating in the election because it was caught selling its cards, the group’s observers were still allowed in polling stations.
On election day, a Herald reporter saw young men surreptitiously passing the cards around and instructing people to go vote. At the Lycée National de Pétionville voting center, an exasperated supervisor complained to a colleague that a party monitor had already voted at least three times using the card. And on a street near the station in Nazon, a Herald reporter overheard a man on the phone negotiating the purchase of 300 cards.