Election Day: Day 5
Today started at 4:15AM, my driver was here by 4:30, and we arrived at L’ecole Petion in Belaire by 5:30. It was still dark, but eager Haitians had already started to assemble in front of the iron gate. Inside were MINUSTAH, HNP, UNCIVPOL, as well as the AP, a number of domestic agency observers organized through the Provisional Electoral Council. The 36 polling stations (each with a 400 person capacity), or Biwo Vot (BV), which were supposed to open by 6, seemed lucky to open by noon.
Over the next hour the crowd swelled to an indistinguishable number. Many began to yell, especially when I stuck my head over the wall. They well, “Blan, nou bezwen vote!” Or, “We need to vote!” Energy was high, but not tense. Voters began to shake the gates however when party observers were let in and they were not. At 6:45, when polls still hadn’t opened, an officer from UNCIVPOL made this call on his cell, “If this place doesn’t open by 7, send more people.” And indeed they did.
7:15, Juan Gabrielle Valdez, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti arrived flanked by 6 security guards and a troupe of journalists. He briefly strolled the grounds and chatted with reporters and left. The only instance of note was when the ammo clip fell from his 6’4” Swedish bodyguard’s machinegun. Our security detail made certain to note that he wasn’t American. By 7:40 the place was open to the elderly and infirm and was teeming with people. The AP was shooting live footage; Newsweek and Radio Kiskeya, scurried about snapping photos and trying to get official statements about the late opening.
The gates only sporatically opened while we watched. Every time is opened just a crack it seemed dozens would slip through. This led to much frustration on both side and many people were closed in the door as the thousands of voters behind them pushed.
This was a trend throughout the locations we visited. In my observations, only one instance of violence was reported. Disorder and frustration led to a security guard hitting a voter with a baton. The voter taken to the hospital and he was quickly removed by HNP. While many people’s perception of the HNP and affiliate agencies are quite poor. Today showed the discipline that the UN has instilled in many. The dreaded CIMO were at two locations we visited, both of which were the most highly organized and efficient of the BV we visited.
As the day progressed, it became clear the CEP had over estimated their ability to plan well. They were shocked at the voter turnout, while not adequately informing voters of the location of their BV. By 11, the CEP had to issue a statement instructing their staffs to ignore voter lists and to copy down voter information to be submitted with ballots. Luckily, everywhere I visited, indelible ink was used religiously on voter thumb nails.
Closing the BV became the most difficult portion of our day. Polls closed at 6 (previously set at 4, but extended because of the late start), and there we sat until every ballot was counted and rechecked against the total number of ballots until all of the party observers and BV workers agreed.
BV employees worked tirelessly, meticulously laying ballots into piles by candidate by candle light. Suffice it to say that my day did not end until 2AM when I found my bed again, and other BV were still running.
Observing was a grueling task, but highly enjoyable. The elections were peaceful amid the confusion, and in my eye successful. Complaints, while present, were not statistically significant to raise any red flags. I think that the BV were adequately trained, and the confusion at polls was rooted in an out of touch CEP that refused to believe that Haitians would not turn out en mass to participate in their democracy. While I shouldn’t venture a guess, I will say this, everyone here knows which candidate is number 1.
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