OAS will observe Haiti’s elections but wants changes ahead of vote

A supporter of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse holds up a sign that reads in Creole "Yes the election is possible with Privert" referring to the interim President Jocelerme Privert, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 21, 2016.
A supporter of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse holds up a sign that reads in Creole "Yes the election is possible with Privert" referring to the interim President Jocelerme Privert, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 21, 2016. AP

The Organization of American States will once again serve as observer for Haiti’s presidential vote.

But the OAS Electoral Observation Mission is calling on Haiti to adopt sweeping changes to strengthen its elections process ahead of the upcoming Oct. 9 presidential rerun in order to avoid the kinds of procedural breakdowns and fraud allegations that plunged the country into a full-throttle crisis.

In a 15-page document released Tuesday, the mission lists more than a half dozen recommendations aimed at reforming the process, and closing legal loopholes that have triggered disagreement between foreign and Haitian elections observers over what constitutes fraud.

Among the immediate changes Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) is being asked to make: tighter controls on political party representatives known as mandataires so their votes can be separated; more training and power for poll workers to help them better identify irregularities; and changing the indelible ink used to identify individuals who already voted.

OAS deployed 123 observers, and visited 487 polling stations in last year’s presidential elections.

Widespread procedural breakdowns — such as failing ink that led to multiple voting — along with the issuing of more than 900,000 accreditation cards to mandataires, helped fanned a widening chorus of doubt about the credibility of the results after the Oct. 25 presidential vote. Nearly a year later, Haiti still doesn’t have an elected president and the country is being governed by an interim president whose 120-day term in office expired June 14.

“The Mission is concerned that to date the electoral process had not been brought to completion and that no administrators have been held responsible,” the OAS’ observation mission said. “Bringing the electoral process to a close is everyone’s responsibility.... It is not just up to the electoral authority. A combined effort is required.”

The recommendations are the result of a number of shortcomings the mission observed in the electoral process , and after having analyzed the conclusions of the Independent Commission of Evaluation and Electoral Verification. The special verification commission recommended a redo of the first round presidential balloting.

The commission’s controversial recommendation was in fact a “formal annulment of the presidential election,” that pitted then-ruling party candidate Jovenel Moïse against opposition candidate Jude Célestin in a run off, the mission said. Legislative and mayoral elections, held the same day, were not annulled, even though the same issues occurred with those elections.

“It bears noting that the [presidential] results published by the CEP coincided with those of the statistical sample taken by the OAS observers,” the mission said, noting that it did three additional statistical cross-comparisons, producing the same top four presidential finishers.

With the exception of the top four finishers in Haiti’s presidential race, the remaining 50 all received less than 5 percent of the vote.

The only international group to observe most of the commission’s work, OAS experts, like their European Union counterparts, took issue with some of the methodology used, and the conclusions. For example, in its evaluation, the commission noted that the list bearing the names of party representatives was missing in 96 percent of the electoral packets it analyzed. As a result, the commission concluded that 448,000 votes were “untraceable” or “zombie” votes.

The OAS said that while it was concerned to see that so many documents were missing, “the Haitian Electoral Decree does not consider the list of representatives to be part of the ‘electoral material’ that must be included in the electoral packet to be sent to the CEP (Article 167.3), nor does it consider it a document whose lack could be grounds for annulling the return (Article 171.1). In fact, neither of these two articles refers to this document.”

Nevertheless, the mission has accepted Haitian’s decision to rerun the election, acknowledging “that there had been significant organizational shortcomings in the October 25 election, including poorly trained polling station staff, inadequate conditions for ensuring ballot secrecy, and problems with the use of the indelible ink to identify individuals who had already voted.”

“There was evidence of vote buying and voter substitution, as well as excessive numbers of political party representatives who were authorized to vote at polling places other than those where they were registered,” the mission said. “This irregularity made it difficult to control how many times these party representatives voted.”

Haiti’s October 25, 2015, elections had 128 parties and political groups; 54 presidential candidates; 2,037 candidates for legislative elections, and more than 40,000 candidates for municipal assemblies and local councils.

The recommendations comes days after interim President Jocelerme Privert announced that the government has found the $55 million to fund the elections. Haiti elections chief Leopold Berlanger, earlier this summer, told the Miami Herald he intends to enact a number of reforms to bring credibility to the process. Among them, increased training for supervisors and tighter controls on party representatives at the polls.

Among the recommendations the Organization of American States’ Electoral Observation Mission is calling on Haiti to make in the immediate and long term:

▪ Limit, to the extent possible, “mega polling stations” and make efforts to set up new polling stations centers.

▪ Post instructions for poll workers at the polling stations as well as inside the voting booths.

▪ Establish election day as the time at which objections are to be made in order to prevent the right to object from being used as a way to delay and obstruct the electoral process.

▪ Adopt a statistical-sample-based quick-count system as well as a system for transmitting preliminary election results to get results to the population in less than 10 days.

▪ Use tarps and tents (temporary shelters) in open spaces in order to maximize the use of space at the polling stations.

▪ Establish a computerized registration procedure for political party representatives similar to the one proposed for registering candidates. Each party will have to provide the full name and identity numbers of each representative, as well as the polling station where the representatives are registered.

▪ Penalize the political parties and candidates implicated in acts of violence and intimidation, as a deterrent.

▪ Adopt fingerprint technology to purge the voter list of deceased voters.

▪ Passing a new election law to provide more legal certainty and legitimacy.

▪ Revise the political party law; currently only a minimum of 20 people are needed to form a political party. The mission suggests that a minimum of at least one percent of the 5.8 million electoral registered.