Evaluation Commission's Ambiguous Report May Only Deepen Haiti's Electoral Crisis

January 05, 2016

The following is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog, which was created to help promote the free access to information and accountability within the electoral process. The blog is co-managed by several non-governmental organizations who work with and within Haiti.

On Sunday 3 January, the Independent Electoral Evaluation Commission released its report on the 25 October presidential elections. Appointed on 22 December by President Martelly in response to demands for an independent investigation, the Evaluation Commission met over the holidays with electoral council members, government officials, election observers, candidates and other concerned groups, and conducted a verification of 1771 randomly-selected tally sheets. 

The report concluded that the October 25 vote was indeed marked by “grave irregularities” that were “akin to fraud.”

The testimonies gathered were unanimous in recognizing that the 25 October 2015 elections were tainted by irregularities, and that several candidates benefitted, through their representatives at polling stations,from these irregularities comparable to fraud. (p. 10)

The sample of tally sheets examined by the Evaluation Commission painted a picture of a deeply flawed electoral process. 92% of the 1771 randomly-selected tally sheets examined by the commission had at least one “serious irregularity” and 54.1% had three or more serious irregularities. According to statistics compiled by the Commission, 56.7% of tally sheets showed evidence of erasure and modification (“rature avec modification“), while 28.3% of tally sheets had not been plasticised, a measure meant to prevent post-vote alterations.

The Commission also found that that many votes had been cast without the proper documentation. 57.1% of tally sheets had votes without the corresponding signature or fingerprint of the voter recorded on the voter list, 46.8% of tally sheets examined had votes that were cast using an invalid CIN number, 30.6% of tally sheets had votes that lacked a CIN number altogether. The scale of these irregularities are potentially massive. Commission member Rosny Desroches stated in a radio interview with Radio Vision 2000 that at one polling station in La Saline, 200 people voted without providing CIN numbers, while only 25 voted with a voting card.

The report confirmed the accusations of a number of observer groups that the system ofmandataires (political party representatives) was systematically exploited to cast fraudulent votes on election day:

The mobilization of an exaggerated number of mandataires (more than 900,000) who were able to vote outside of their polling stations … was the cause of many irregularities or fairly serious problems during the electoral activities of 25 October 2015. This led, above all in polling stations in urban areas, to themanipulation of votes and the purchasing of accreditation cards by political parties having the financial means. Many mandataires, benefiting from the complicity or negligence of polling station workers, voted at multiple polling stations. (p. 6)

The impact of these fraudulent votes cast by mandataires and other “off-list” voters was potentially quite large. In over a quarter (27.2%) of the tally sheets in the Commission’s sample, off-list votes accounted for more than 15% of total votes.

Due to the short timeframe of its operations, many questions were left unanswered by the Commission. The Commission, for instance, could not dispel the “rumours” concerning UNOPS’ alleged role in manipulating or destroying tally sheets that it was tasked with transporting: “The commission would need more time to examine this question and to uncover the whole truth concerning this point.” (p. 6) The UN contracting agency was tasked with organizing election logistics on 25 October and Sylvain Coté, one of its employees, was accused by a PHTK deputy candidate of involvement in a massive operation of fraud.

Unfortunately, the Commission shied away from evaluating the full scope of the problems on 25 October in its report. The report never clearly establishes the degree to which the presidential election results were compromised by such “irregularities akin to fraud.” Nor does the report ever identify the candidates that benefitted the most from these irregularities, only timidly noting that political parties in general revealed themselves to be “potential sources of irregularities, fraud and corruption in electoral competition.” (p. 6) The Commission’s report was often ambiguous about whether the widespread and serious irregularities it found actually constituted “fraud.” The Commission said its findings from the analysis of tally sheets, for instance, “could be attributable to the incompetence or lack of training of polling station workers or to serious attempts of fraud.” (p. 9)

The Commission concluded that these irregularities required a response from the nation’s authorities, while carefully limiting the scope of its recommendations. “Corrective and dissuasive measures are therefore necessary for the continuation of the electoral process, knowing that there are no perfect solutions in the present circumstances.” (p. 10) The report recommended the resignation of CEP members who have lost credibility due to accusations of corruption, and the creation of political dialogue between all concerned actors to find a way out of the impasse. The report also called for polling station workers to receive better training in the second round, and eventually to be made permanent employees of the electoral council rather than temporary staff selected on a political basis.

The electoral body admits that more than 60% of voting bureau members were not able to accomplish correctly the work required. … Many irregularities that resulted in the quarantining of numerous tally sheets were due to their carelessness and their lack of general and specific training. (p. 5)

The Commission thinks that polling station workers must no longer be temporary personnel subject to the relentless influence of certain political actors. (p. 12)

The Commission also recommended reviewing accusations of corruption in the electoral complaints process related to the legislative races. Although it was not tasked with evaluating the legislative elections, the Commission received more than 50 cases of “complaints, contestations, accusations of fraud that were not properly dealt with”:

During the entire time the Commission was sitting, it received a significant number of complaints and denunciations from candidates during the last legislative elections about the injustices they claim to have suffered. There were even public disturbances related to some of these cases. The electoral institution cannot tolerate injustices committed through the BCED or the BCEN, whose judges have been so heavily criticized. There has even been talk of corruption. The Commission recommends a re-evaluation and an in-depth examination of these dossiers. (p. 11)

The report included in its recommendation an ambiguous call for “a more in-depth examination on the technical level of the responsibility of the electoral apparatus for irregularities often described as massive fraud.” (p.12) Its recommendations, however, avoided calling for a full recount of the vote or the rerunning of elections, an omission that prompted Commissioner Gédéon Jean of RNDDH to refuse to sign the final document.

Since early November, the Group of Eight (G-8) candidates, civil society organizations, religious groups and countless demonstrators have demanded an Investigative Commission to look into allegations of fraud on October 25. Instead of a full investigation of electoral fraud, the opposition got something more akin to a Guarantees Commission, an idea floated by OCID’s Rosny Desroches in early December that was roundly rejected by the G-8 but embraced by the U.S. and other Core Group embassies. The restrictive way in which the Evaluation Commission interpreted its mandate and the modest recommendations it limited itself to means that its report has not satisfied these sectors, many of which have issued denunciations of the report and its recommendations and called for mobilizations against electoral fraud to continue.

The Evaluation Commission noted in its report that the preponderant role of foreign powers had damaged Haitians’ confidence in the electoral process. “The perception of meddling by international actors in the major decisions of the nation causes confusion and discredits the country’s established authorities.” (p. 2) The Commission’s report, and Desroches’ obvious influence on its outlook, will only make it harder to dispel such perceptions. Desroches, who became the Commission’s spokesman, has long enjoyed close relations with the international community; his organization OCID received the lion’s share of a $4 million grant from the U.S. and Canada to monitor the elections.

Overall, the report is a contradictory document will likely deepen rather than resolve the electoral crisis. The Commission itself is clear about what going forward without correcting the results of previous elections means: “A President of the Republic and other elected officials issued from elections tarnished by major irregularities would further aggravate the political crisis and instability of the country.” (p. 1) Yet beyond a general statement that violations of the electoral law should be punished, the Commission makes no recommendations for rectifying the presidential elections, even while admitting that 25 October was marred by serious irregularities.

Full text of the Independent Electoral Evaluation Commission (in French) is available here.

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