Munk SchoolUniv.or Toronto


CEP post

Original PV
CEP post

Case Study #2: A picture--and an internet connection--is worth 175 electoral observers

By Antoine Nouvet

November 28th 2010 marked the first round in Haiti's presidential and legislative elections following the country’s devastating January 2010 earthquake. While allegations spread following the elections of “mismanagement and incidents of fraud” , the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council quickly sanctioned the electoral process.

In the country’s post-earthquake context of infrastructure and state deficiencies, critical to facilitating and supervising the electoral process was international support, of which principally the OAS-CARICOM ‘Joint Election Observation Mission’, operating in the country since August 2010 and monitoring the election’s administrative, technical and logistical components.

QuotesIt is remarkable that a few individuals on the ground, acting on their own agency and with their own resources, were able to achieve results that a sophisticated and very well-funded multinational electoral observation mission could not.


This mission deployed approximately 175 electoral monitors and was supported by a budget of USD 5.3 million . In addition to the JEOM, other support was provided by various countries and organizations, not least of which the USA which provided USD 16 million of related assistance via USAID .

The day subsequent to the elections, the JEOM noted seven forms of electoral irregularities, such as late opening of Polling Stations or instances of incorrect application of voting procedures such as “the signing of the ballots by BV Presidents before the arrival of the voter” . However, overall, the JEOM concluded that the elections were legitimate, thus corroborating the PEC’s verdict and legitimizing the electoral process internationally.

With the exception of some incidents of “repeat voters”, what appeared to pass under the OAS’s radar were instances of massive fraud by vote inflation. Indeed, the JEOM lauded the application of safeguards that prevented inflation such as “tally sheet procedures also included deterrent elements to prevent the changing of the results” and criticized opposition claims during the election of massive fraud by vote inflation .

However, thanks to intrepid informal observers at a polling station, harnessing newly accessible technologies in the form of cameras imbedded within mobile phones, cases of blatant vote inflation were witnessed and recorded thanks to photos on November 28 of official returns of polling stations’ (‘proces-verbals’, or tally sheets) with results from each polling booth. Thanks to the successful use of internet, this evidence was diffused and eventually brought to the attention of decision-makers.

Though not a reflection on the overall outcome of the Haitian election and nor to detract from the important and valuable work the JEOM undertook, this incident highlights some of the implications new technologies are their effective use can have on the overall supervision of elections.

The official returns in question—gathered from several polling stations where a position as deputy in the Lower House was in contest—were informally photographed by observers prior to their ingression to the Provisional Electoral Council. At some stage while in the hands of the PEC local officials, but prior to their ingression to the PEC’s ’s Vote Tabulation Center, officials “added either 100 or 200 votes to the ruling-party candidate's total on each return” , by simply erasing and re-inscribing vote tallies in the first line of the official returns. For instance, the tally of votes in one official return was at some point during its review by the PEC altered for the incumbent from a total of 11 votes to 111 votes by adding a digit. This alteration, which was eventually identified in the case of 14 official returns, dramatically altered voting outcomes (see figure 1) in favour of a certain Joazard Claude of Inite Party.

Figure 1.

ComparisonThese ‘before’ and ‘after’ images were subsequently publicized online, through sites such as the Haiti Democracy Project (see images: ). The availability of online means of diffusion was critical, as otherwise, the incident and its evidence would have remained largely unknown outside local circles.

Dramatic in this narrative is that such a case of blatant fraud went unnoticed by the JEOM, judging from the JEOM’s public statements between November and December. Indeed, the basis for review of the voting results, critically reviewed here, altogether failed to account for fraud of this nature. This was also despite the fact that the JEOM specially “maintained a presence in the Vote Tabulation Centre (VTC)” and “deployed a team of observers from the very start of the tabulation of votes in order to observe the reception, the data inputting and the verification of the validity of the results sheets (procès-verbaux) sent from the polling stations throughout the country” . Rather, it was through ground-up citizen initiative and diffusion in cyberspace—producing concrete, compelling evidence—that the incident eventually came to the attention of the JEOM, which acted upon it (see OAS’s response to the incident:

Overall, it is remarkable that a few individuals on the ground, acting on their own agency and with their own resources, were able to achieve results that a sophisticated and very well funded multinational electoral observation mission could not. Likewise, whilst the perpetrators of electoral fraud had devised a means of bypassing the supervision of the JEOM, they remarkably failed to account for the agency of a few citizens and their cellphone cameras. Moving forward, highlighted anecdotally in this incident is the value of citizen monitors, a concept empowered by the advent of new technologies.