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#4700: Haiti's election results don't add up (fwd)


Haiti's election results don't add up

By Joanne Mariner
FindLaw contributer 
Special to CNN Interactive

July 21, 2000
Web posted at: 3:13 p.m. EST (1913 GMT)

(FindLaw) -- In some perverse way, the history of election fraud is also a story of human creativity. We are all familiar with certain tried and true methods of rigging elections: intimidating voters, stuffing ballot boxes or instigating a mass turnout of the dead. But there is always room for innovation -- as Haiti's controversial recent elections show.

The senate races were perhaps the most problematic aspect of these profoundly flawed
elections. In a dramatic sweep, 18 of the 19 senate seats at stake in the elections went to candidates of the Lavalas family, the political party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Indeed, one lucky candidate received an astounding - and improbable -- 92 percent of the vote.

In democratic countries, landslides of such proportions are rare. A closer look at the Haitian elections shows why this smashing victory was too good to be true.

Inflating the numbers

Nineteen of the country's 27 senate seats were up for grabs in this year's elections. In each of the country's nine departments, therefore, two of the three existing seats were to be filled, except for one department in which all three were available.

Haiti's electoral law establishes two rounds of balloting for senate races. The first round is intended to narrow the field to those candidates with large voter support. Haiti's numerous small parties -- some so tiny they are thought to consist of only the candidate and his closest friends -- make such a method particularly appropriate. 

The Haitian Al Gore would be competing against not one vote-splitting Ralph Nader, but a dozen of them.  Indeed, a total of 145 candidates ran for the 19 senate seats, an average of 16 in  each of the nine departments. 

 In such circumstances, first-round election victories are difficult to attain.  That is because under Haitian law, a candidate must obtain an absolute majority - more than 50 percent of the valid votes -- to win in the first round. Any seat not won by an absolute majority goes to a second-round election that pits only the leading candidates against each other.

Amazingly, however, Haitian election officials tallying this year's results reported that all 19 of the senate races were decided in the first round. Thus, officials claimed, there was no need for senate runoff elections.

This is truly hard to believe, especially when the senate races are compared to those of the other constituent body of the Haitian parliament, the chamber of deputies. Those parallel elections -- governed by exactly the same rules and similarly swarming with candidates -- led to wildly different and much more plausible results. 

Only about a third of the 83 deputy races were decided in the first round. The remaining races were resolved on July 9 in the second-round runoffs. With the same voters and parties involved, why were the senate election results so radically different?

Uncovering the fraud

The election monitoring team of the Organization of American States was quick to find the explanation for this deluge of first-round senate victories. The team
compared the absolute number of votes won by each candidate to the percentage of the vote that each was awarded. From this comparison, it deduced that not all
of the votes were counted.

Instead, in each department, the Haitian electoral council had counted only votes for the top four contenders. (In the one department that had three open seats, the top six contenders' votes were counted.) The votes accruing to all other candidates were simply ignored. This bizarre method of counting grossly inflated the percentages accorded the two leading contenders in each department -- boosting many over the 50 percent-plus-one threshold necessary to avoid a

For example, there should have been a runoff in the North East Departmentwhere the leading candidates for the two seats garnered 49.7 and 46.4 percent of the vote respectively. But by counting only the votes cast for the top four candidates -- and thereby ignoring eight other candidates' votes -- the electoral council bumped up the leading candidates' percentages more than 20 points.

Defending the indefensible

When confronted by the OAS, the Haitian electoral council tried to justify its novel counting method. It asserted that the electoral law and related provisions of the Haitian Constitution were written to cover the situation of one senatorial race per department, without providing clear guidance when two or more senate seats
are at stake.

But that's simply wrong. Granted, the constitution does prescribe that senators be elected for staggered terms of six years each, so that ideally only one senator
is elected per department in any given election. 

But the drafters of the 1987 constitution knew that the first time the new rules were followed, all of the senate seats would be filled, meaning that there would
be multiple seats at stake in all departments. Similarly, the drafters of the 1999 electoral law knew that this year's election would have to fill multiple seats in all departments. Indeed, the law mandates a complicated set of procedures to address that very situation.

Moreover, the electoral law contains a careful description of the runoff procedures to be followed in the event that neither of the leading candidates in a
given department garners an absolute majority. 

This provision would make no sense if the electoral council's bizarre calculation method were used. Using that method, the leading candidate in every department
is mathematically bound to win in the first round (and, as the overall results suggest, the second leading candidate is also extremely likely to win).

Joanne Mariner, a Yale Law School graduate, is deputy director of the Americas Division of
Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org). She recently returned from an 11-day mission to Haiti. Joanne Mariner is also a FindLaw contributor.