In Haiti election, voter confusion, apathy loom large
Despite the importance of today's Haiti election, turnout is expected to be low amid voter intimidation, confusion, and apathy.
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“We are seeing quite a lot of people who have been trying to get their [voter] cards to vote” in recent days, says James Morrell, executive director of the Haiti Democracy Project, which has a team of 75 observers spread throughout the country.Skip to next paragraph
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Late Saturday afternoon, a few hours before an 8 p.m. government-imposed curfew, Haitians waited for voter cards outside the main Interim Electoral Commission (CEP) office. By night’s end, many had been turned away.
A drive to distribute cards grew voter rolls by 200,000 people to roughly 4.5 million registered voters in the months leading up to today’s vote.
But officials expected only 40 to 50 percent of voters to turn out, a significant drop from 2006 when turnout was closer to 60 percent.
Part of the expected low turnout may come down to confusion.
At an electoral center off a traffic-clogged Port-au-Prince avenue, a stream of annoyed voters searched tattered 8x11 printouts for their names on Saturday.
After searching for 20 minutes, Tavien Fanord gave up. He lives across the street from the center, but he had no idea where he was supposed to vote.
“They told me to go to some Web site and put in my [ID] number,” he says. “Why should I have to go pay money to get on a computer. I live right there.”
He pointed across the street to a house street near piles of rubble and pancaked buildings. Behind him, a woman complained that she’d taken a nine-hour bus ride to the capital to vote, only to be told she had to go back to the countryside because her name didn’t appear on the rolls.
“The historical obstacles – such as low turnout, suspicion of fraud, and campaign violence – not only persist but have been greatly exacerbated by the [earthquake]", the International Crisis Group reported recently.
History of dodgy votes
Haitian elections have rarely gone smoothly. In 1987, the first presidential election after Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was removed, only 4 percent of voters turned out after a violent election day episode caused the vote to be delayed.
“This year, there have been several reports, from around the country, of electoral violence,” said Bernice Robertson, Port-au-Prince-based analyst with the International Crisis Group. “That’s not new to Haiti’s elections.”
Police, volunteers, and UN forces have been deployed to guard the 11,000 polling places.
In 2006, Rene Preval emerged from that election with just 48.8 percent of the vote, less than the majority needed to avoid a run-off. But after electoral officials discounted blank ballots – which were originally counted as a vote for “none of the above” – he was given 51.1 percent and took office in May.