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#2306: Haiti voter drive progressing despite mix-ups (fwd)


WIRE:02/11/2000 17:23:00 ET
 Haiti voter drive progressing despite mix-ups
MIAMI (Reuters) - Haiti's unprecedented drive to register  four
million voters with picture identification cards has  produced "very
good" turnout despite isolated violence,  mix-ups and deadline woes
that still could delay upcoming elections, an advisory group said  
Friday.  Haiti's long-delayed legislative and municipal elections are 
set for March 19 and April 30. The elections are the first in  three
years in the impoverished Caribbean nation, which is  struggling to
establish a stable democracy after years of dictatorships, coups and
foreign military intervention.Voter registration began two weeks behind
schedule on Jan.  24 and two-thirds of the registration offices in     
Port-au-Prince  have yet to open, said Karen Seiger, a senior program
officer  for the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES).
By law, each registration office must be open for at least  30 days
before the election, the International Foundation for  Election Systems
(IFES) said.  It appears likely that registration may need to
be          extended by two or three weeks," IFES, a Washington-based
group  providing technical and logistic help to Haiti's elections 
officials, said in a status report.  Seiger told Reuters it was too
early to say whether IFES  would recommend postponing the election. But
IFES said in its  report that it was "better to change the election date
rather  than compromise the integrity of the process." Haiti adopted the
laminated photo cards to deter voting fraud. The card system uses
Polaroid technology and does not  require electricity, important because
 service is  patchy in parts of rural Haiti. The system was designed to
be  user friendly in a country where at least half the population is 
illiterate.   By Feb. 4 -- 11 days after registration began -- more
 than  900,000 people had received their voter ID cards, about 22.5 
percent of those expected to register, IFES said. "There have been some
isolated instances of violence in  which the registration materials were
destroyed, but the process  is going smoothly and peacefully in      
the majority of the  registration sites that have opened," IFES said.  
Since early November, there have been 48 election-related  "incidents"
ranging from attacks on registration offices to  destruction of
registration materials, and police have made 28  arrests, IFES said. 
Some of the incidents were spurred by  allegations of  partisanship
among the office workers.In some cases, no materials or the wrong
materials were sent  to the offices. In other cases, inadequate        
training and human  error spoiled the cards, though  that has tapered
off, IFES said. Haiti's Provisional Election Council, which oversees
 the  registration and remains committed "to organize free and fair 
elections," is working to improve distribution of registration 
materials and to get all 3,480 registration offices up and  running, the
report said.  Police have arrested several people who registered
more than  once, and radio stations have been publicizing the penalty
for  the infraction -- 15 to 25 days in prison.  
 The candidate registration list includes 29,306  candidates  for the
Senate, Chamber of Deputies and local government  councils.