Why the OAS Quick Count Doesn’t Mean What They Want You to Think it Means

February 01, 2016

With less than a week left in Haitian President Michel Martelly’s term, and no elected successor to take office, Haiti remains mired in political uncertainty. As negotiations take place over what comes next, one key issue will be whether to go back and investigate the first round results before moving forward.

Many within the international community and the Haitian government are seeking to move forward as quickly as possible with the same two candidates that were scheduled to participate in the January 24 runoff. On the other hand, protesters and many within civil society are advocating a further investigation and verification of the vote.  The Organization of American States (OAS) dispatched a special mission to Haiti yesterday to facilitate dialogue on next steps.

The main argument against further verification has relied on the “quick count” conducted by the OAS on election day that was based on a sample of tally sheets observed from polling centers throughout the country.

The OAS count has been used by others to argue that fraud allegations are overblown. During an OAS council meeting last week on the situation in Haiti, Gerardo de Icaza, the head of the OAS electoral observation department, said the “results published by the CEP [Provisional Electoral Council] agreed with the OAS statistical sample,” and that the organization had conducted three other statistical tests that all showed the same top four candidates.

During an interview in December, State Department Special Coordinator Ken Merten told me that there had not been credible proof of fraud and the U.S. “understanding is that both the U.N. and OAS think the results were close to the quick count.”

Telegraphing why this matters in the current context, the European Union representative, speaking at the same OAS meeting last week, stated the EU’s desire to see the electoral process move forward, “considering the results of the process so far.” In other words, this means moving forward without any verification of the first round results.

But the OAS’s quick count does not mean what they want you to think it means. There are serious concerns about what percentage of the votes cast were legitimate votes but the OAS count sheds no light on this crucial issue.

The evaluation commission, set up by President Martelly himself in late December, showed explicitly why simply verifying the count is not adequate to validate results. The commission found that only 8 percent of tally sheets (the basis for the OAS count) were completely free from irregularities. 57.1 percent of tally sheets had votes without the corresponding signature or fingerprint of the voter recorded on the voter list, 46.8 percent of tally sheets examined had votes that were cast using an invalid ID number, and 30.6 percent of tally sheets had votes lacking an ID number altogether.

The most serious and pervasive questions raised about the legitimacy of the election concern repeat voting by political party monitors (mandataires). The CEP issued over 900,000 accreditation passes to political party observers before the election and several thousand other observer passes. These passes allowed monitors to vote wherever they were without being on voter lists, and in many cases, safeguards to prevent these monitors from voting multiple times were not implemented.

With the streets flooded with these passes prior to the elections, accreditations were bought and sold, turning the system into a black market where those with the most money were best able to take advantage. The evaluation commission found that off-list voters —mainly political party monitors —made up more than 15 percent of the total votes in more than a quarter of polling centers across the country. The impact was potentially massive. The OAS itself acknowledged that this “has been generally seen as one of the main sources of irregularities.”

Even those who have cited the OAS quick count as validating the results acknowledge, when pressed, that it says nothing about the actual legitimacy of the votes cast. When asked if the quick count proved the legitimacy of the vote, Icaza clarified that it only showed that results were “consistent with the counting at the voting centers.”  When it was pointed out that the OAS had only confirmed the actual counting of votes and not the votes themselves, Merten responded: “I don’t disagree with that but I don’t think there is any way to prove it. We’ll probably never know.”

But with the elections cancelled, there is the possibility to know – if a true independent investigation into the results is allowed before moving forward. In a press release on Friday, the International Federation for Human Rights, the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, and the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights called on both Haitian actors and the international community to support a “verification of votes in the first round by an independent body” in order to “legitimize this process.”

To restore credibility to the process, Haitians must have faith that their votes matter, and that means first ensuring the legitimacy of results. Arithmetic is easy, but determining whether those underlying numbers are real will require further investigation.

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