Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

As Haitians observe International Human Rights Day, lawyers concerned that low turnout and voter exclusion indicate threats to Haitians’ right to vote

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For Immediate Release

Contact:

Mario Joseph, Av., Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (in Haïti), mario@ijdh.org +509-3701-9879 (French, Kreyol)

Nicole Phillips, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (in US), nicole@ijdh.org +1-510-715-2855 (English, French, Kreyol)

As Haitians observe International Human Rights Day, lawyers concerned that low turnout and voter exclusion indicate threats to Haitians’ right to vote

(Port-au-Prince, December 10, 2016) – Following the November 28 announcement of preliminary results for Haiti’s presidential elections, human rights lawyers are concerned by the extremely low turnout, and the potentially massive exclusion of voters and allegations of fraud during the vote tabulation process. “Many Haitians faced serious obstacles to voting on November 20,” said Mario Joseph, managing attorney of the Port-au-Prince-based Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI). “Fixing problems that excluded voters from casting their ballots is crucial for the integrity of Haiti’s electoral system,” Joseph said.

On election day, many voters could not find their names on the electoral list of their voting center, while others discovered that they had been assigned to voting centers far away from their place of residence. Problems with the electoral list were compounded by difficulties Haitians had obtaining their Carte d’identification nationale (CIN) from the Office Nationale de l’Indentification (ONI). In hurricane-affected areas of the south-west, Haitians who lost their CIN cards were unable to vote, even if they had an attestation form issued by the ONI.

International and national observers indicate that voter exclusion was a common problem on election day. According to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP)’s preliminary results, only 21 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the election, though the turnout declines to 17.3 percent in counting only the valid votes. Unfortunately, election workers did not document the number of voters turned away due to errors in the electoral list or unavailability of identification.

“Voter exclusion has been a problem in every election I’ve observed since 2010, as voter turnout continues to plummet. More efforts need to be made by the Haitian government and the international community to update voter registration lists and issue national identity cards so that everyone can vote,” said Nicole Phillips, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti who observed the elections. “The failure to do so violates Haitians’ fundamental human right to vote under Haitian and international law.” The scope of voter exclusion must be investigated and the electoral lists corrected before the next round of elections in 2017, Phillips added.

Election observers with a delegation from the U.S.-based National Lawyers Guild witnessed encouraging improvements to Haiti’s electoral system on November 20, in particular the professionalism of polling station workers. Election day was calmer and had reduced instances of fraud, due to the pre-registration of political party monitors (mandataires), the usage of indelible ink and better-trained security agents at polling places. Voting booths were larger and better designed, providing voters with greater secrecy when filling out their ballots. The CEP also released its procedures manual for the vote tabulation process, a demand of Haitian civil society.

Despite these advances, three challenges were filed by presidential candidates and 27 challenges were filed by legislative candidates objecting to the integrity of operations at the Vote Tabulation Center, which resulted in a high proportion (10.4 percent) of polling stations’ vote tallies being excluded due to irregularities. Decisions on the challenges are expected any day. Three members of the CEP did not sign the council’s declaration of the preliminary results, citing concerns over how irregularities were dealt with.

The CEP must investigate the allegations, clarify its decisions and address other serious incidents, such as reports of bags of discarded ballots found in the Nord Department, the BAI’s Joseph insisted, before finalizing the results. “These elections will not produce a legitimate government unless the challenges are fully investigated and publicly explained.”

Whether due to exclusion or discouragement or both, November 20’s low voter turnout is a worrying sign for Haiti’s fragile democracy. In the presidential race, PHTK candidate Jovenel Moïse finished first with 595,430 votes. If the preliminary results stand, Jovenel Moïse will have won presidency with the support of less than 10 percent of Haiti’s 6.2 million registered voters. Voter turnout has declined steadily since 2000, when the winning candidate won over twice as many votes (2.63 million) as the top four finishers in the 2016 official results combined (1.02 million).

“The U.S. and its allies in the international community bear some of the blame for Haitians’ political disengagement,” said Brian Concannon Jr., executive director of IJDH.  “After more than a decade of foreign-backed coups d’état, military occupation and interference by outside powers, Haitians have well-founded concerns about whether their votes will be respected or their elections can truly change anything.” UN troops have occupied Haiti since 2004, after a U.S.-backed regime change overthrew the elected government.

For more information, see the National Lawyers Guild and International Association of Democratic Lawyers’ November 2015 report calling for an independent investigation to address widespread allegations of fraud in Haiti’s October 25 elections and their September 2016 report calling on neutrality and independence of international electoral observers in Haiti.

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