Current Haitian electoral system is a constitutional disaster

Current Haitian electoral system is a constitutional disaster
Current Haitian electoral system is a constitutional disaster
Haitians voting in 2017. Photo by Garry Pierre-Pierre

By Bobb Rousseau

By giving the central state the authority to organize elections for the country at all levels, the Haitian constitution of 1987 conceives the electoral system as a pin-free bomb whose procedures are combustible materials that explode in each electoral cycle to plunge the country into a labyrinth of collective terror and political instability. 

Democratic governance should not grant any government the authority to hold elections because no government should be judge, jury, party, and executor against itself. Elections organized by a central power are always marred by fraud, violence, and international interference.

The Haitian electoral system is highly centralized with an electoral council whose members the government appoints. Additionally, this same government chooses the date of the elections, finances the elections, establishes the eligibility criteria for candidates at all levels, and tabulates and publishes the results. The central government maintains its influence over the electoral and litigation offices spread across the country as their members are also appointed by the government. The people do not participate in the appointment of those who run these departmental and communal electoral structures. 

Such a system is incompatible with the basic concepts of participatory democracy. It violates articles 66 to 88 of the constitution on the decentralization by devolution of the country’s institutions. It promotes uniformity over diversity in the electoral system, presents a single point of failure and facilitates electoral fraud. It must be decentralized down to the communal section to allocate to local authorities the power to organize elections to replace their elected representatives. This will avoid gaps in the parliament and the appointment of executive officers at the head of municipalities.

The structures for this decentralization already exist through the theoretically decentralized departmental and communal electoral offices of the electoral council. They shall be extended to also be present at the level of the municipal section. They will be permanent and financed by municipal taxes. In practice, they are not decentralized because they have no authority to establish their own election procedures or eligibility criteria. Their operation depends on the electoral decree written, submitted and voted by the central power. 

Each section, each commune and each department will have an electoral organization and an electoral disputes office. When a term ends, it will be up to each of them, as an electoral district, to organize elections to elect or renew their respective staff. The dates for the elections may be different per electoral district for local, municipal and legislative elections, but they will be the same for presidential ones.

Candidates for the senatorial elections will be required to register for each municipality in the department they intend to represent and those for the presidential elections for each department. A municipality or a department may refuse or reject any application that does not meet their respective criteria. 

The capacity to organize the elections will revert to each constituency instead of a centralized state body. The CEP will still have its place in the system as a control body ensuring transparency and certification of results. The National Litigation Electoral Officewill be the appeal body before the court of cassation or the constitutional court in the event of irregularities violating the principles of democracy and respect for human rights.

After the certification of the results and the swearing-in of the legislators by the electoral council, the senator who obtains the most votes will sit in parliament to represent his department while the other two will form the departmental legislature to work in concert with the departmental and interdepartmental assemblies. Deputies will only be elected for two years. They will attend meetings held by their respective departmental legislature and municipal assembly. 

This new system will be democratic in that it will give a voice to local authorities and at the same time will reduce violence, tally manipulation, and electoral fraud.