Haitian vote Sunday mired in confusion, delays

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By Jacqueline Charles and Trenton Daniel
The Miami Herald

PORT-AU-PRICE, Haiti (MCT) — Confusion reigned at a number of voting bureaus throughout the country Sunday as Haitians trickled to the polls to vote for a new president and members of parliament.

At the polls, many voters said they were unable to find their names on voter lists. Others who could not read found no one to help them locate their names. Meanwhile, at the Lycee National Carrefour Feuilles, dozens of frustrated voters stood in a single line while inside chaos took over as monitors sat idle at wooden desks and others held group discussions.

Nowhere to be found: voting bulletins.

Some said they were missing, others claimed they had been hidden because monitors began arguing after being told they would be paid less than the $12 per day that they were promised. Polls were to open at 6 a.m.

"I’ve been here since 6 a.m. and I cannot vote," said Vedroun Menthor, a Michel Martelly supporter, said an hour after the polls had opened.

Menthor who stood at the head of the line said he had no idea how long he would stay before giving up.

Asked if he thought his vote would make a difference, he said, "I don’t know. It’s your duty, so you are obliged to do it. But the country has no leaders."

"You could vote for them and they still let you down," he said.

At Lycee Jean-Jacques Dessalines confusion also reigned.

Voters were upset that they had to wait for monitors to vote before they could cast their votes.

At 7 a.m. Maxeau Francois, 43, sipping on a soft drink, got into a shouting match with a Provisional Electoral Council observer demanding to know why he was unable to vote.

"It will be 6 p.m. and people still won’t be able to vote," he said.

Francois, a sociologist, said he doesn’t believe his vote will make a difference "but I’m doing it just to give (President) Rene Preval and Jude Celestin a vote of no confidence and send them all on their way. "I’m tired of all of them."

Preval is barred from running for a third term but Celestin is his hand-picked choice to succeed him.

In the Gonaives slum of Raboteau, poll workers were busy assembling ballot boxes as others taped voter lists to the wall. In one classroom, a poll worker counted presidential ballots as others watched to ensure none went uncounted.

"In Haiti there’s always a little chaos," said election worker Gregory Sterling, 32.

Sterling said he expected the poll to open by 8 a.m.

Meanwhile, several Pakistani troops from the United Nations peacekeeping force stood guard outside the school.

More than two dozen voters had showed up at the building to cast their ballots.

Cedrick VanBokkelen was first among them. He said he was skeptical about the fairness for the election but wanted to fulfill his civic duty anyway.

"I want to make use of my citizenship," said VanBokkelen, 63. VanBokkelen said he planned to vote for Jacques Edouard Alexis, a former prime minister who was sacked twice.

"I know him — he has experience, he has competence, and he has the capacity to do things right."

Just last week, students at Lycee Jean Robert Cius protested the installation of a treatment center across the street for cholera, which has claimed more than 1,600 lives since the disease was discovered in Haiti in mid-October. The center was later accepted after neighbors realized it helped save lives.

In the capital, the scramble continued to get polling centers ready.

Lines began forming early at voting centers but they were mostly poll workers waiting outside voting bureaus.

Throughout capital, workers were still setting up polling booths as workers stood inside looking.

Some bureaus had no lines of voters, others just a handful.

At 6:30 a.m., workers at Ecole Nationale Celie Lilavois on Rue Nicolas were still setting up polling kits inside as a small line began forming. About 20 people stood outside the fence waiting.

"They said we can’t go in to vote until MINUSTAH comes," said Rose Regis, a high school biology teacher who headed the line of voters.

Leaning against a photo of presidential candidate Charles Henri-Baker, she said she woke up early and arrived at 5 am to come support the candidate because "I believe in him."

"I want to see an increase in national production and the return of the army. Yes, we need an army and for that I’ve come early to give my vote," she said. "We need security in this country. Look, they, the police say we can’t vote until MINUSTAH comes so even they believe in it."

In Cap-Haitien, the scene was also the same. Radio Caraibe reported shooting Port-de-Paix early this morning and that UN peacekeepers fired gas in the island of La Gonave after disgruntled voters started accusing workers of not opening polls because they were stuffing ballots.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Miami Herald
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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