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#4820: More on the Elections (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>



Deputy Director of the Americas Division
of Human Rights Watch

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, eighteen of the nineteen senate seats at stake in
the elections went to candidates of the Lavalas Family,
the political party of former President Jean-Bertrand

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 twenty-seven 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 that 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 nineteen senate seats, an average of sixteen 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 -- over 50
percent of the valid votes -- to win in the first round. Any
seat that is 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 nineteen of the senate
races were decided in the first round. Thus, officials claimed,
there was no need for any 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
eighty-three deputy races were decided in the first round.
The remaining races were resolved on July 9th, in the
second-round runoffs. With the same voters and parties
involved, why were the senate election results so radically

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 runoff.

For example, there should have been a runoff in the North
East Department, where 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 twenty 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 very 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 is irrelevant if
the electoral council's bizarre calculation method is 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).

Democracy is rarely a matter of winning everything. In
Haiti, where democracy is still struggling to take hold,
the effort made to award everything to a single party
-- via blatantly unfair electoral manipulations -- is a
disturbing portent for the future.

Joanne Mariner, a Yale Law school graduate, is
Deputy Director of the Americas Division of Human
Rights Watch . She recently returned from an
eleven-day mission to Haiti.

©1999 Haiti Online [HOL].
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