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'Massive irregularities' detected in Haiti presidential vote

An independent review of Haiti's controversial presidential vote suggests the results should not be salvaged because of "massive irregularities" that have been detected.

The report, issued Sunday by Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), says about 156,000 votes were not counted in earlier tallies, which placed a former first lady in a runoff position with a candidate backed by Haiti's current president, René Préval.

"The amount of votes not counted or counted wrong in this election is huge - much larger than has been reported by either the Organization of American States or the Provisional Electoral Council," said Mark Weisbrot, co-author of the report. "I don't see how any professional observers could legitimately certify this election result."

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A 12-member panel from the Organization of American States appointed to review the results has yet to release its official findings related to electoral fraud on the first ballot, which was held in November.

In the days after the chaotic vote, violent protests broke out across Haiti. Supporters of the popular carnival singer and candidate Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly burned buildings in cities across the country, set up barricades and shut down the capital after news he placed third. He was beaten for second place by Jude Celestin, the candidate backed by the unpopular current president, by less than 1 per cent. Former first lady Mirlande Manigat led the voting, according to the original count.

A runoff between the top two candidates was originally scheduled for Jan.16, but delays have pushed the process into limbo. A spokesman for Haiti's electoral council said last week that a second-round vote will not take place until late February.

In response, the United States hinted support for scrapping the disputed result altogether.

Now, the way forward is more unclear than ever.

The CEPR report, titled Haiti's Fatally Flawed Election, said the irregularities make it impossible to fairly decide which candidates are entitled passage into a second round.

"If there is a second round, it will be based on arbitrary assumptions and/or exclusions," the report said.

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Tally sheets from more than 1,300 voting booths were never submitted for counting; in total, more than 12 per cent of the votes were left out of the final totals the national electoral commission released in December.

"This is an enormous amount of votes discounted, by any measure, and especially in an election in which the difference between the second and third-place finisher - which determines who will participate in the runoff election - was just 0.6 per cent of the vote," the report said.

It placed the voter participation at less than 30 per cent of those registered. That number is extremely low compared with the 59.3-per-cent participation rate from the last presidential vote in 2006.

The report also noted a high rate of clerical errors related to ballot counting. And it called the attempt to register 1.5 million internally displaced people in the country "a resounding failure."

There was little reaction to the release of the report in Port-au-Prince on Sunday. It was business as usual in the still-destroyed capital, which is preparing to mark the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that crushed it.

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About the Author
Global food reporter

Jessica Leeder is the Globe’s Atlantic Reporter, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In previous roles, Jessica has reported for the Globe from Afghanistan and post-quake Haiti, assignments for which she won an Emmy and a National Newspaper Award, respectively. She has also written about the politics of global food, entrepreneurialism and small business, and automotive news. More

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