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Haiti: Earthquake victims lose out in election

5,000 people showed up to vote at 1 polling station that had only 39 names on the list.

Haiti election, voting
A child walks among the election ballots still lying on the ground in a building where a voting station was setup in Port-au-Prince, Nov. 29, 2010. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Michelle Altima spent all of election day trying to vote, trekking to three polling stations. Henry Emalack lined up at 6 a.m. only to find his name did not appear on voter rolls. Christian Jean found the name of his brother, who was killed in the January earthquake, but not his own.

Thousands of Haitians living in camps share similiar stories: When they tried to cast ballots in Sunday's pivotal national elections, they could not vote. They likely represent the country's most disenfranchised group.

“The government did not do its job. We were the people who were affected by the earthquake. And we couldn’t vote,” said Emalack, whose polling place had 39 only registered names, but had more than 5,000 people wanting to vote.

The elections led to controversy when 12 of 18 presidential candidates joined to denounce the vote as fraud. The candidates pointed out that their supporters were unable to cast ballots because of widespread confusion. The vote has since received the blessing of international observers and the Haitian electoral council. Even some of the leading candidates who criticized the election have switched positions.

Two candidates who were quick to criticize the irregularities, Michel Martelly, a musician, and Mirlande Manigat, a career academic, backed away. Not surprisingly, early returns show them running No. 1 and 2, respectively. A Jan. 16 runoff election is nearly a sure thing, since it's unlikely one candidate will win more than 50 percent of the vote in the first-round.

The next president is expected to receive buckets of international aid and the vast responsibility to rebuild infrastructure that barely existed before the earthquake.

Yet, as ballots began to be counted, it became clear that thousands of voters were barred from voting in the historic election. That was particularly true in the 1,300 camps inhabited by 1.3 million to 1.5 million people who were made homeless by the January earthquake, election monitors said.

“These were people living under tarps who wanted to vote and spent their day getting turned away at three or four places,” said Melinda Miles, executive director of Kite Ayiti Viv (Let Haiti Live), a Port-au-Prince-based organization that sent monitors to observe the vote. “It was a systemic failure.”

At one camp, Corail, about 10 miles north of Port-au-Prince, roughly 5,000 people showed up to vote, but the polling place had a list of just 39 names, the polling place supervisor said.

Nearby, in a settlement of people displaced by the earthquake, the polling station had hundreds of registered voters but never opened, Miles said.

GlobalPost visited half a dozen camps in the days after the election and found similar complaints in each. The most common: Voters with a valid identification card went to the local polling place but their name did not appear on a list of registered voters. Some gave up there. Others were sent to other polling stations.

Altima said she walked for hours to polls set up in school classrooms.