By Sam Bojarski | Sam@haitiantimes.com
For the first time ever, Haitians in the diaspora can participate in Haiti’s upcoming elections without leaving their country of residence, government officials say.
“We believe in democracy, so we would like to invite everyone, everybody who can vote, to participate,” said Jacques Lauture, consul general at the Haitian consulate of New York.
Eligible Haitians living abroad can now register for a national identification card at any consular office, giving them the ability to vote starting with the June constitutional referendum, consular officials have said. Although Haitians living abroad were granted the right to vote back in 2011, diaspora members had to travel to Haiti, which proved to be a major roadblock to participation.
Identification cards can be obtained free of charge. They are currently restricted to people ages 18 and up, who can provide a valid birth certificate. Registrants must also provide proof of their residence within the jurisdiction of a particular consulate, said Herwil Gaspard, consul general at the Haitian consulate in Orlando, Florida. Citing Haiti’s 1987 constitution, he said that any person born to at least one Haitian parent may be eligible to vote.
“Every Haitian in the diaspora, in Orlando as an example, they can come right now to the consulate to get their national identification card,” Gaspard said. “This card will give them access to vote, first for this referendum.”
The Haitian government has already begun issuing voter identification cards for this year’s elections, with officials stating in recent weeks that over 4.2 million people are registered to vote.
Originally scheduled for April, Haiti’s controversial constitutional referendum has since been rescheduled for June 27. The draft constitution at stake in the referendum contains many provisions, including the right to vote from abroad, for members of the Haitian diaspora.
If voters agree to ratify a new constitution, Gaspard said that the diaspora can also use its identification cards in the elections scheduled for this year, starting with legislative elections on Sept. 19.
For those who obtain an identification card, some unanswered questions remain, concerning how diaspora members can cast their ballots.
On June 27 and beyond, people can vote at any consulate, embassy or diplomatic mission. While officials are also looking at setting up satellite voting locations or vote-by-mail options, those details have not been finalized, consular officials in New York and Florida said.
“By this new constitution, we want to make inclusion between Haitians in Haiti and Haitians outside of Haiti,” said Gaspard. “Because with this inclusion we can [push] for a better country.”
Calls for political participation, despite controversy
As violence escalates in Haiti, political observers have raised doubts about the possibility of holding fair and safe elections this year.
While these security issues could impede voter turnout, voting abroad deserves support from the diaspora, said Vanessa Joseph, city clerk of North Miami and chair of the Haitian American Voter Empowerment (HAVE) coalition, which aims to develop the voting influence of the diaspora in the United States.
“For many, that’s where most of their families still live today,” Joseph said, in an email. “So as people who still share a tremendous attachment to Haiti, they should be given the opportunity to vote at a Haitian consulate or through another absentee mechanism.”
Haiti’s judicial sector has criticized the electoral process, including President Jovenel Moise’s unilateral appointment of a provisional electoral council to organize the elections and his authority to carry out a constitutional referendum. Moise, who organized the elections, has thus far resisted calls for him to step down, from protesters and political opponents who claim his term ended on Feb. 7.
Given Haiti’s current state of insecurity, Joseph said there is a real danger that this year’s election will not reflect the will of the people.
“What concerns me is that elections will be organized solely for the benefit of those living in the diaspora, while excluding people who reside within the country,” Joseph said, in the email. “We want to ensure that the people not only believe in their leadership, but they must also trust the process by which their leaders are elected.”
Among other changes, the draft constitution calls for the restructuring of the legislative and executive branches, the right for the diaspora to run for office and the ability of the president to run for two consecutive terms.
Ketley Altena, a Boston-based social worker, said further political participation, including the right to run for office, is long overdue, particularly in light of the more than $3 billion the diaspora sends to Haiti annually, in the form of remittances. Still, she said the referendum organized by Moise raises suspicion and that the diaspora must understand the full implications of a new constitution.
“We have to keep our eyes open, even though the president would like us to come and be a part of Haiti the way we really want,” Altena said. “We have a lot of controversial amendments that need to be taken into consideration before we [in the] diaspora understand to the fullest what has been going on.”
Others in the diaspora said they would not participate in the referendum process, given Haiti’s current situation.
Andy Durandis, of Freeport, New York, said in a written message that there is “no way” he would vote on the referendum. “There is a lot to say about the legitimacy of the process,” he said, criticizing Moise for unilaterally organizing the referendum.
Haiti’s president has ruled by presidential decree, in the absence of the legislature, since January 2020.
“I would never vote,” said Judite Blanc, a psychologist based in Manhattan. “[Moise] doesn’t have the power to hold a referendum … security and peace should be the main priority right now.”
Click here for a list of locations and contact information, for Haitian consular offices in the U.S.
*The original version of the story attributed a quote from Consul General Jacques Lauture to his translator. This has been corrected