Haiti Democracy Project



A Review of Haiti's May 21, 2000 Senatorial Elections:

New Findings

By James R. Morrell

Presented to the Roundtable "The Future of Haiti in Light of its Past"

chaired by Prof. Robert Maguire, Trinity College

Latin American Studies Association

Washington, D.C.

September 8, 2001

Major Findings

The material distributed consists of abbreviated senatorial tally sheets from Haiti's first-round legislative election on May 21, 2000 and related calculations. The generally-accepted view of the first round is that it was a landslide for the Lavalas Family, which then went on to commit fraud in the central counting even though it had already won. However, a more careful review of the tally sheets finds that the non-FL parties together actually outpolled the FL in four of the eight departments that voted on May 21. They did so in the Artibonite, Central Plateau, Nord-est, and Nord-ouest. FL outpolled the non-FL parties in the more populous Nord, Ouest, Sud, and Sud-est departments. (Grand' Anse did not vote.) The data are also presented in a summary.

The review also establishes:

  • In six of the eight departments, the number of votes discarded by the fraudulent top-four method of counting was actually greater than that received by either FL candidate.
  • In applying the top-four method, the CEP counting office used exactly the same 50-percent method that it decried when suggested by the OAS.
  • If exactly the same distribution of votes is projected onto the second round, then using the OAS method (straight 50 percent), the non-FL parties stood to win eight senate seats against nine won by FL in the first round. (Since voters' behavior is not linear, it is not suggested here that that would have been the actual outcome. Any number of voters could have switched to FL or vice-versa.)
  • If an allowance is made for blank ballots (one per five voters) and the same distribution is projected onto the second round, the non-FL consituency stood to win nine seats against three more for FL. (See caveat above.)

These findings suggest that while the overall impression of a Lavalas victory in the first round remains correct, this victory was more contingent than generally acknowledged. In particular, the numbers presented Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas colleagues with two major uncertainties:

1. Would the blank votes be counted and so reduce first-round FL victors from nine to approximately five?

2. Would the FL/non-FL distribution observed in the first round hold in the second?

If either of these conditions held, the opposition might win the second round.

The above findings suggest that Aristide's recourse to the fraudulent top-four method may have had a greater "pragmatic" basis than generally accepted.

Description of Material Distributed

The distributed material consists of abbreviated senatorial tally sheets and calculations for all eight departments that voted. The actual names of the senators are left off in the interest of brevity. Page 9 is a summary sheet that reviews first- and second-round scenarios.

The OAS method was simply to divide senatorial ballots cast by 50 percent. Note that this was most favorable to FL in that it yielded nine first-round victors. If blank ballots are counted at the rate of one per five voters (thus one per nine ballots cast), the denominator increases enough to eliminate four first-round victors.

The above are the major findings of this paper. Below we present background material already in the public domain.


Haiti's constitution and electoral law mandate a first-round victory to a candidate who wins 50 percent plus one of the ballots cast. The constitution sets a staggered schedule of senatorial elections with nine senators, or one per department, being chosen every two years. However, because Haiti failed to hold legislative elections in 1998, in the 2000 elections two senators were up for election in each department and in the Central Plateau, three because OPL senator Yvon Toussaint had been assassinated in March, 1999. So voters on May 21 received ballots to vote for more than one senator. Then to establish whether a candidate received 50 percent plus one, it was necessary to divide the total number of votes cast by two (three in the Central Plateau) and compare the candidate's votes to this number.

Thus if 100 voters cast 200 votes for senatorial candidates, to exceed 50 percent of the votes cast per senator a candidate would have to receive 51 votes.

Instead of following this procedure, by June 1 the CEP's directorate of operations headed by Luciano Pharaon issued returns counting only the top four finishers. Former president Aristide's role has not been established, but presumably it was major. Cutting it off at the top four reduced the field enough so that the FL candidates, who were leading in most races, got way over 50 percent and so could be declared first-round victors in sixteen of seventeen races (see the department charts). The OAS and opposition rejected this method as fraudulent, which it was. The president of the CEP, Léon Manus, at first resisted the OAS but then reversed himself and by mid-June was preparing to issue returns mandating a second round for all but five FL senatorial candidates. He was threatened by President Préval and Aristide and fled into exile with U.S. government assistance.

The OAS refused to observe the second round and withdrew its mission. The opposition boycotted the Grand' Anse vote, the second round and the November presidential and senatorial elections. With only FL candidates running in these elections they ended up monopolizing the 110-member legislature. The dispute over the counting of the May 21 election, and the cascading series of boycotts, remains unresolved at this writing.

In defending the top-four method, the head of the directorate of operations, Luciano Pharaon, wrote in June 2000 that applying the OAS method of dividing the vote in half would have introduced phantom votes because some voters did not vote for both senators. Admitting these phantom votes would be contrary to the constitution and would devalue the votes of those who did vote for senators.

However, the tally sheets show that the directorate of operations proceeded to use the very same method of dividing the vote in half. The only difference was that it divided in half only the vote received by the top four finishers instead of all the votes in order to attain the denominator for the percentage calculation.

On June 14, 2000 the CEP published the returns in the proper way, counting all the votes and dividing the senate returns by 50 percent (33 percent in the Centre, where there were three open seats).

In determining the number of candidates who won on the first round, it made considerable difference whether the blank ballots were factored in. It's estimated that one in five voters only voted for one senatorial candidate. Then there would be one blank ballot for every nine cast. The constitution and electoral law mandate the counting of blank ballots. The number of blank ballots is included in the returns from every precinct. The blank-vote issue came to a head in the disputed 1997 vote.

The OAS in pressing for abandonment of the fraudulent top-four-cutoff method, and pressing for counting all the votes, apparently left the blank-vote issue to the side. Counting only the votes cast for candidates, nine FL candidates won on the first round, and this was the number the OAS gave. However, the inclusion of blank votes at the rate of one per nine senate votes cast increases the field (and so the denominator in the 50-percent calculation) sufficiently to reduce the number of FL first-round winners to four or five, which is the number CEP president Léon Manus was preparing to announce.

The potential for the non-FL candidates to improve in the second round is based on the fact that in the first round the non-FL voters scattered their votes among more than fifteen parties, while FL voters all voted for one party. That enabled nine FL candidates to win in the first round by the OAS method , or five by including the blank ballots. In the second round it would be one-on-one per senate race. Those who had voted non-FL in the first round would have only one non-FL candidate per race to vote for in the second. If they all decided to continue to vote non-FL, then from those four departments with a majority of non-FL voters in the first round (Artibonite, Centre, Nord-Est, Nord-Ouest) they would have the votes to elect eight non-FLers (OAS) or nine (blank votes).

The enforced unity that a one-on-one runoff imposes on the runner-up parties has been observed in many countries to improve their chances. Whether it would in Haiti we will not know until a second round is properly held.

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