Lead Up to Election Day
Friday, November 18th was the last day of campaigning for Haiti’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections which were to be held on Sunday, November 20th. On Fridaywe visited Delmas 2 where we met with activists on the ground including women and men. Preparations were underway for the get-out-the vote campaign. In Delmas 2 there were banners and other materials for the Lavalas Presidential candidate Dr. Maryse Narcisse. Several people expressed to us the widespread concern that the election may be stolen, nevertheless the people we spoke to felt it was nevertheless important to vote.
Later on Friday, we visited Cite Soleil where a massive march was taking place. The March preceded and followed a motorcade with former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide and Dr. Maryse Narcisse. Tens of thousands took part in the march. The atmosphere was festive with music and dancing. The mood in the crowd was determined, although some we spoke to also expressed concerns about a stolen election, people generally seemed enthusiastic about voting. A popular song poking fun at Jovenal Moise the candidate endorsed by former President Michel Martellyentitled “Banann” was often played and all seemed to know the words and sang along.
Early that evening there was a massive Lavalas rally at the old airfield in Delmas 2. The crowd grew to tens of thousands. There was a notable lack of western media present at that rally. The mood was joyful and enthusiastic, many there said, including some of the speakers, that if the election was not fraudulent, Dr. Narcisse would win on the first round.
On Saturday, November 19th no election campaigning was allowed. We visited a few neighborhoods including various parts of Delmas and spoke with people. In one upscale neighborhood, a young man who spoke English said he was not going to vote because “everyone knows the US selects our President, no matter who we vote for.”
We started out early on election day Sunday, November 20th. We travelled in a motorcade with a couple of National Electoral Observers. We visited between 12-15 voting centers based in several neighborhoods, including the upscale Petion-Ville, and the impoverished area of Cite Soleil. The Voting Centers were based in schools or similar facilities. Each Voting Center housed on average 20 to 50+ polling stations, individual voting booths made from sturdy cardboard were inside the polling stations.
There was a list outside each polling center with the names of people who were to vote at that center. Then within each polling station there was another list and one’s name had to be on both lists to vote. After people voted, they were to sign next to their names or be fingerprinted; voters’ thumbs were then stained with indelible ink to indicate that they voted.
On the surface, everything appeared calm since early day concerns of physical violence did not materialize, but as the day wore on those who were not able to vote were quite agitated. Most of the Voting Centers we visited were busy, several with lines outside.
Voting Day Problems
· A number of people stated that they could not vote because they had no voter ID; it was simply impossible for certain people to obtain this ID card.
Example: One man applied over 14 months ago and after 6 or 7 fruitless, time-consuming trips to the crowded ONI office that provides the voter ID cards, he could not vote in the elections.
Many voters with voter ID cards could not find their names on the voter lists posted outside voting centers and unable to vote.
Example: Several voters determined to vote told us that they stopped after searching for their names at three or even four voting centers. A few voters with more resources (like a vehicle) and connections said that they were successful only after visiting 3 or 4 centers. One elderly woman in Carrefour/Kafou who was at her fourth voting center stated that she could find no assistance and was too tired to continue to try to vote.
· Voters with ID cards could not find their names on the voter lists insidepolling stations when their names were on the lists posted outside. Also, many voters could not find their names on the list outside the voting center.
Example: Voters told us of their frustrating search from one polling station to another inside several voting centers; they were advised by CEP staff to try another voting center.
· Voters with voter ID cards were inexplicably re-assigned to vote in other far away voting centers, miles from their place of residence and even in different cities
Example: Several voters we met faced this, including a man residing in the Carrefour/Kafou neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. He found out after a fruitless search at each of the polling stations inside the voting center where he had always voted that this time he could not vote there. He had been reassigned to vote in the locality of Haut-du-Cap about 147 miles away.
· Voters with voter ID cards who had been provided information by the CEP/KEP phone service about where to vote were not allowed to vote.
Example: Several frustrated voters showed us SMS messages on their phone from the CEP/KEP (Provisional Electoral Council) directing them to their respective voting center. When they got there, their names could not be found on the voting center lists.
· In many cases, the CEP/KEP phone service to assist voters in locating their assigned voting centers and polling stations was not functioning on election day.
Example: We talked to voters who tried with no success to connect with the numbers of the CEP/KEP phone service, and ended up not voting because they did not know where to vote.
· Voters inside a voting center were prevented from voting while standing in line.
Example: Voters in Cite Soleil/Site Soley who had entered the Voting Center before the 4pm voting deadline and were looking for their polling station or waiting in line outside their polling station were not allowed to vote. Officials stated that they could not vote since they we not inside the individualized voting booths by 4:00 p.m. Their protests were in vain, indeed they were met by police with large long guns.
· The countrywide electrical blackout that occurred one hour or so after the polls closed during the vote counting has led to widespread charges of “magouy” or massive fraud, including vote-switching and ballot dumping during that time.
· The Haitian elite media illegally reported results of voting at selected polling stations about two hours after the polls closed claiming a huge win for JovenelMoise, the candidate of the PHTK party of former Duvalierist president Martelly.
· We heard numerous reports that Digicel phone company was observed outside of voting centers illegally giving out to voters’ phone cards of a monetary value with the emblem and photo of Jovenel Moise candidate of PHTK. People were also reporting that Digicel was sending phone messages to its customers urging a vote for the PHTK candidate.
· Voting centers in rural areas, per several reports we heard from rural voters, are located about 20 km or more from many voters’ place of residence. In addition to the great distances to travel with none to very limited transportation, rural voters encountered all the other problems described above.
· A large market in Petion-Ville that benefited impoverished market women and their customers was burned to the ground on election night. The market women lost everything. A member of our delegation visited the market and met with the women. The women said the fire was “political”.
Reports of Fraud
· There are reports (and photos) of uncounted, discarded and burnt ballots marked for the other candidates found in different areas of Haiti
· Reports of ballot stuffing
· Long unexplained delays for the transfer of official tally sheets of individual ballots from the polling stations to the central tabulation center
· A large number of tally sheets were missing required authentication, including voter signatures or fingerprints.
· The countrywide electrical power outage that occurred one hour after the polls had closed, as votes were being counted; the nearly 2-hour darkness raised much alarm among a knowledgeable and vigilant public fearing that like the 2015 elections, that a vote switching operation was under way.
Observations of voting activities on the day of the election, lead to the conclusion that there was widespread organized voter suppression which impacted the reported election results. Eligible voters were kept from voting using methods described above, this negatively impacted the number of voters declared to have cast their ballots.
One of the major complaints targeted ONI (Office National d’Identification), the only agency designated to issue required voter ID cards, as an estimated 2 million voters were deprived of these cards. Voters who had ID cards were often unable to vote because they could not find their assigned voting centers.
The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP or KEP) provided no organized assistance at most of the voting centers. The CEP/KEP phone assistance lines were not working. The many members of the electorate unable to vote complained that these actions had been orchestrated by the CEP/KEP to deny them their right to vote.
Despite voter suppression, large numbers of Fanmi Lavalas supporters did manage to go to the polls. In Cite Soleil/Site Soley alone (17% of the national electorate), enough Lavalas supporters voted for the election to have had a different result than the preliminary result put forward by the CEP.
Thousands of Haitians have been taking to the streets in daily massive protests since 11/21/16, the day after the elections. They are accusing the CEP/KEP of having organized an electoral coup d’état in favor of Jovenel Moise, the PHTK party candidate chosen by Duvalierist former president Martelly to be his successor.
Dr. Maryse Narcisse, Moise Jean-Charles and Jude Celestin have all refused to accept the results and have officially contested the results.
Three members of the nine-member CEP refused to sign off on the preliminary results.
Protests by the grassroots are growing each day as more of these details have surfaced. These protests are expected to continue in the face of the CEP’s giving Jovenel Moise a first-round win at 55%.
Brutal police repression against peaceful demonstrators has included the use of tear gas, high-pressure liquid irritant, beatings, shootings and arbitrary arrests. The 1:00 a.m. tear gas attack on 11/29/16 by UN trained and supervised Haitian police against impoverished residents of the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Lasalin resulted in the death of 3 babies with several people hospitalized.
Pierre Labossiere, Haiti Action Committee/Oakland California
Margaret Prescod, host of Pacifica Radio’s “Sojourner Truth”