NDI/Carter Center Preliminary Statement
The International Observer Delegation sponsored by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and The Carter Center offers this Preliminary Statement on the May 16, 2000 presidential elections in the Dominican Republic.
On May 16, the Dominican people successfully exercised their right to vote for their nation's next president. In a process marked with enthusiasm and dedication, Dominican voters went to the polls in large numbers. This commitment was echoed by fellow citizens serving as election officials, political party delegates and nonpartisan election monitors who brought intelligence, dedication and common sense to the process. The administration of the elections was enhanced by a new, modernized electoral registry that helped safeguard the process and by an unprecedented "verification exercise" to check the voter registry to prevent problems on election day.
However, these steps did not completely dispel the perceptions among some political party leaders that the Junta Central Electoral (JCE) favored one political tendency -- a perception rooted in the selection of JCE magistrates by the Senate without the broad multipartisan consensus that had occurred in previous elections and led to allegations of partisanship, even on election day.
Notwithstanding the overall success, some election day procedures lowered voter participation in an extremely close contest. Article 13 of the Dominican constitution guarantees to all citizens the right to vote, and voting in a democracy should not be as burdensome an experience as it was for many Dominicans on May 16. Some provisions in the colegio cerrado system hampered voting. Voters who had been assigned to new polling places were in some cases unable or unwilling to travel to the new site in time to vote. In some colegios the drawn-out registration and voting process, coupled with the physical discomfort of cramped polling sites, led citizens to abandon their efforts to vote. Although most polling sites were well-managed, in some cases citizens were effectively prevented from voting by inadequately trained poll workers unable to administer the cumbersome colegio procedures.
The advances represented by the new voter registry may obviate the need for the colegio cerrado system and the excessive burden it places on even the most committed voter. At the same time, the disenfranchisement observed on election day did not appear to affect the outcome of the elections nor did it appear that one candidate was disproportionately affected by the problems observed.
I. The Delegation and Its Work
Our delegation was comprised of 24 members from 11 countries and is led by H.E. Belisario Betancur, former president of Colombia; Gloria Salguera Gross, former president of the Congress in El Salvador; John Sununu, former governor of the U.S. state of New Hampshire and White House Chief of Staff in the Bush Administration; Thomas O. Melia, vice president for programs at the National Democratic Institute; and Gordon Streeb, former U.S. diplomat and associate executive director at the Carter Center. The delegation also included parliamentarians and other elected officials, political party and civic leaders, election experts and regional specialists. The delegation was invited to observe the election by the Junta Central Electoral (JCE) and the three major political parties. The delegation was also welcomed by the President of the Dominican Republic and civic and religious leaders.
The purpose of the delegation was to demonstrate the international community's continued support for the democratic process in the Dominican Republic and to provide the international community with an objective assessment of the May 16 election. The delegation conducted its activities according to international standards for nonpartisan international election observation and Dominican law and does not seek to interfere in or supervise the election process. NDI and the Carter Center recognize that, ultimately, it will be the people of the Dominican Republic who will determine the legitimacy of the elections and of the resulting government.
Our delegation maintained close communication with other international delegations, as well as with the national observer group Participacion Ciudadana. The delegation's work was also informed by the research of the NDI/Carter Center staff in Santo Domingo, in particular Dr. Ricardo Cohen, an Argentine political analyst and elections expert who has been present in the country for several weeks. This delegation also benefited from the work of an NDI pre-election mission which traveled to the Dominican Republic in mid-April, and three Carter Center pre-election missions, including one at the time of the "Verification Process" in late March. NDI and Carter Center staff will also remain in-country for a time to observe post-election activities and to prepare for a delegation that would monitor the second round voting on June 30, if a run-off occurs.
The delegation drew upon the experiences gained from previous observation missions to the Dominican elections. NDI conducted pre-election and international election observation delegations for the 1990, 1994 and 1996 Dominican elections. NDI's 1990 and 1996 delegations were organized jointly with The Carter Center. Most of the members of this delegation, in fact, were participants in one or more of these prior missions.
The delegation arrived in the Dominican Republic on Friday, May 12 and met in subsequent days with government and election officials, presidential candidates and leaders of the major political parties, journalists, political analysts and academics, religious and business leaders and Participacion Ciudadana. On May 15, the delegation members were deployed to 13 provinces around the country to meet with local political and civic leaders and election officials. On election day, the teams observed the voting and counting processes in about 350 colegios in 80 voting centers. Following the elections, the delegation members returned to Santo Domingo to share their findings and prepare this statement.
II. Observations and Analysis
An accurate and complete assessment of any election must take into account all aspects of the electoral process. These include the legal framework and the character of its implementation; the pre-election period, including the campaign; the voting process; the counting process at the voting tables and the tabulation of results at each level; the investigation and resolution of complaints; and the conditions surrounding the formation of a new government. Though this delegation has been focused on the events of the past few days, we are well aware of what has gone before and mindful of the fact that this is only a preliminary statement based on observations to this point. A full report will be prepared at a later date and made available to the JCE, the political parties and Dominican news media.
A Successful Election
Disenfranchisement of Some Voters
Some citizens were prevented from voting because they had been transferred from one colegio to another, and they had difficulty in locating the colegio in which they should cast their ballot within the tight time constraints imposed by the closed college system of voting. The extensive information efforts carried out by the JCE, the political parties, Participacion Ciudadana and others leading up to election day surely reduced the numbers affected. However, our delegation found that informational kiosks intended to guide voters uncertain about their colegio were often not present. As a consequence, our delegation witnessed the fact that a number of people were not able to cast their ballot on election day because they were unable to locate their colegio in time.
An equally severe problem which prevented many citizens from casting their ballot in several voting centers was a consequence of the assignment of too many colegios to voting centers with limited space. As a consequence of this overcrowding, or of the actions of security officials concerned with order who limited the access to the colegios by voters, many citizens were unable to reach their colegio in time to vote, in spite of sometimes waiting for long hours outside their voting center.
In nearly all cases, colegio officials worked for long hours under often difficult circumstances with dedication and equanimity, as did the party delegates who witnessed the proceedings at each colegio. Yet, in some cases, poor training or inadequate organization by colegio officials also played a role in preventing some citizens from casting their ballot. The fact that the process was smoother and the atmosphere calmer in the afternoon at many locations provides further evidence that poor training was an issue, and that it was to some extent overcome by the experience gained in the morning voting.
The closed college system of voting seems to have exacerbated many of the problems occasioned by poor training and inadequate logistical preparations, and it may be time to consider another format for voting. The closed college system was instituted as a response to specific concerns about fraudulent double voting in previous elections. Yet the costs associated with the system, coupled with advances in the technology of the voter registry, may mean that the Dominican Republic can move to a less arduous method of voting.
The issue of dark-skinned Dominicans being refused the right to vote due to presumptions or allegations that they are, in fact, Haitian citizens has been a recurring issue over the years. The delegation laments the fact that some continue to see political advantage in racial discrimination and calls on Dominican political leaders to address this civil rights issue.
In a close election, and in an atmosphere where some of the major political actors believe (or say) that the election administrators are acting in a partisan fashion, the political impact of small problems is often exaggerated and they become harder to address. Hopefully, the country can return to a consensus-based approach to the management of elections consistent with the spirit that obtained in recent years.
For the 2000 elections, however, the five-member JCE was named by the PRD-controlled Dominican Senate without the broad multi-party consultation that was the hallmark of the 1996 process. This led to widespread perception that the JCE was partial to the PRD. To overcome these concerns a political compromise expanded the JCE to include one additional member representing the PRSC and one representing the PLD.
This arrangement also established a Follow-Up Committee (Comisión de Seguimiento), which includes respected figures from the religious, business and civic sectors, to monitor the compromise. The Comisión de Seguimiento met frequently with the political parties, fostered continuing dialogue and submitted reports regarding the electoral process. In addition to the Comisión, the JCE was assisted by the hard work of the Advisory Committee (Comité de Asesores). This Comité, comprised of three representatives from the private sector, provided the JCE with technical advice and recommendations. The voluntary work of these citizens was vital in advancing the Dominican electoral process.
Notwithstanding the many achievements of this JCE in this election, the management problems and origins of the JCE in a partisan Senate cast a shadow over the subsequent work of the JCE that it was never fully able to dispel.
Electoral Registry and Verification Exercise
Training of Polling Officials
National Election Monitors
During the pre-election period, the group reported on party primaries, conducted civic education campaigns and co-sponsored the Electoral Ethics Pact. Participación Ciudadana also mobilized 1,500 volunteers to assist with the voter registry verification exercise.
Participación Ciudadana monitored the quality of the voting process with an observer network that included more than 7,500 volunteers. Our delegation members saw the group's young volunteers in the majority of the polling centers visited. The delegation also commented that the level of training, experience and attention to the process differed greatly among volunteers -- although their energy and dedication was consistently high. Their presence helped to provide confidence to the voting public and a check on possible manipulation. On election day, the group conducted an independent verification of the polling results based on a random statistical sample of polling sites (often called a parallel vote tabulation, or PVT).
At this point, the May 16, 2000 presidential election appears to have been a largely successful event, though our delegation feels that this year's election marks a step backward in some key respects from the quality of the elections of 1996 and 1998. The partisan origins of the appointment of the JCE, and the partisan responses from other parties, including the government's initial decision to withhold budgeted state funds from the JCE, cast a cloud over the process that has not dispersed. Notwithstanding certain specific technical or administrative improvements over previous elections, such as the enhanced voter registry, the fact that these elections have seen as much disputation over the process itself, is a cause for concern.
Hard work, intelligence, good will and common sense enabled most colegio officials to conduct good elections in frequently difficult circumstances and to make up for some logistical and administrative shortcomings in the system that will need to be re-examined in future years.
Though it is not at all clear that there is any partisan effect to the disenfranchisement that occurred, the arduous process of voting is clearly a burden on the citizens of this country. The delegation expresses its hope that the improvements in administrative aspects of the election apparatus will enable the Dominican Republic to move away from the 'closed college' system of voting in the near future, particularly in light of the availability of alternate methods of guarding against fraud.
It is perhaps even more vital that actions that reasonably give rise to concern about racial discrimination be examined and specific measures considered to address them.
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