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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.

“Everywhere I went, they told me the same thing, ‘Go to another place,’” she said. “By the end of the day, I went to three places and never found my name.”

Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council said it sent teams to register the displaced people in their camps. The Centers for Operation and Verification (COV) were supposed to help those Haitians find their polling place, but few Haitians knew about the teams until Election Day or later.

At a camp in Port-au-Prince’s Delmas neighborhood two days after the election, the concept still confused Chrstian Armond. He shot an unconvinced look and asked “COV? What’s that?

“We didn’t know where the polls were and we didn’t know where we were supposed to go. They didn’t tell us anything,” he said.

A COV team, in fact, was at his camp for several days. Voters who registered there told GlobalPost that messages were broadcast by radio. Armond doesn’t have electricity, let alone a radio.

In previous elections, polls had been opened to all voters in the afternoon. But this year, the electoral council maintained that voters named needed to be listed for them to vote.

Claims of fraud were rampant. Observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) concluded about 4 percent of polling stations — or about 440 — were destroyed. But confusion, as was the case with Armond, appeared to be the bigger culprit, suggesting Haiti was not ready for an election, despite millions spent to support the vote and the assurances of international organizations.

“Under intense pressure from the international community, Haiti’s provisional electoral council pushed forward with elections at the wrong time,” the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research said in a statement after the elections.

The OAS/CARICOM mission said the “very late launching of the ‘Where to Vote’ campaign,” which included a phone number and website where voters could find their polling station, “did not fully offset the negative repercussions of the delayed campaign. … This would have grave effect on the ability of voters to find their polling stations on Election Day.”

A mission spokesman said the observers' reports were still being studied and he did not know if the problems were more acute at the camps.

The effect was startling. At a polling place in one camp with an estimated 45,000 residents, 109 votes were cast for president, a polling place worker said. Some voted elsewhere; others said they had no chance.

Pollsters expected only 40-something percent of the 4.5 million registered voters to turn out, a huge drop from the 60 percent turnout in the 2006 presidential elections. But even 40 percent seems ambitious now.

At another camp, a campaign organizer said one of the most important elections in the country’s history passed with little notice.

“They just had too many other things on their mind,” said Francois La Paix, referring to a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,700 recently and the post-earthquake chaos in general. “Voting was too much work for some people.”

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