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California Representative Maxine Waters has called for the results of the disputed November presidential election in Haiti to be set aside and for new elections to be held. In a statement today, she writes:

I call upon the Government of Haiti to set aside the flawed November 28th elections and organize new elections that will be free, fair and accessible to all Haitian voters....Haiti's next government will be called upon to make difficult decisions that will have a lasting impact on Haitian society, such as the allocation of resources for cholera treatment efforts and earthquake reconstruction projects.   If these decisions are made by a government that is not perceived as legitimate, the recovery process could be impeded for years to come.

Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, (paywall) Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States from 2004 to 2010, argues for a new presidential election in Haiti to be conducted by a new, politically independent, election commission. He argues that the cost of a new election would be small - the November election cost $30 million - compared to the costs of not seating a new President with democratic legitimacy, given that the next Haitian president will preside over $11 billion in pledged reconstruction funds, and the international community is counting on the presence of a democratically elected, legitimate Haitian government to help make sure those funds are well-spent. $30 million is 0.27% of $11 billion, so if the presence of a democratically-elected, legitimate government reduced waste of donor resources by 0.27%, it would pay for itself. Joseph argues that the majority of Haitians support this call for a new election.

The data that we have from the last two Haitian presidential elections suggests that this claim is almost certainly correct: the call for new elections reflects the opinions and interests of the majority of the Haitian electorate.

You can see the breakdown of the overall electorate and what happened with them in November in the pie chart published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which has also published the controversial leaked OAS draft report on the elections.

According to the CEPR pie chart, 27.2% of the Haitian electorate participated in the November election in any way, including blank and spoiled ballots.

By comparison, the official turnout figure in the last Iranian presidential election was 85%. To my knowledge, the "reformist" camp in Iran has never disputed this overall turnout figure: they disputed how the vote was counted, and claimed either that Mousavi had a majority, or that Ahmadinejad did not have a majority (and thus the vote should have proceeded to a second round.) Based on these numbers, if Ahmadinejad got at least 32% of the vote on election day (the official result for Ahmadinejad was 63%), then a greater share of the Iranian electorate participated in the Iranian election and voted for Ahmadinejad than participated in any way in the Haitian presidential election, voting for any candidate.

Let's compare the November election in Haiti to the group of eligible voters who voted in the Haitian presidential election in 2006. That was by no means a perfect election. But, it was perceived to be competitive enough so that 59.3% of eligible voters were willing to participate, a participation rate similar to Presidential elections in the U.S.

Let's make the very plausible simplifying assumption that if you were the type of Haitian who was willing and able to vote in November, you were also the type of Haitian who was willing and able to vote in 2006.

In that universe of 2006 voters, the 59.3%, 27.2% of registered voters participated in any way in November. That is, with the simplifying assumption that these folks also voted in 2006, 54.1% of the 2006 electorate did not participate in November, either because they were unwilling to or because they were unable to. 45.9% of the 2006 electorate were willing and able to participate in November. (We are comparing here shares of the population, not absolute numbers of human beings, so the appearance of disappearance of human beings from the electorate shouldn't significantly affect the overall argument.)

Thus, not only is it true that 73% of registered voters did not participate in November; it is also true that the majority of those who participated in 2006 - 54.1% - did not participate in November. That already suggests that a majority of Haitian voters who were willing to participate in an election that was at least somewhat competitive were not willing or able to participate in the November election.

In addition, another 5.3% of registered voters participated in November but their vote did not count in the preliminary result, either because their vote was on a tally sheet that was missing or quarantined, or because their ballot was blank or spoiled. This constitutes another 8.9% of the 2006 electorate.

Furthermore, another 4.6% of registered voters, or 7.8% of the 2006 electorate, voted in November for candidates other than Manigat, Martelly, or Celestin. Almost all of these other candidates have called for the elections to be annulled and re-run, and have not changed their position.

Thus, in the universe of the 2006 electorate - people who were willing to vote in an election that is at least somewhat competitive - the constituency for new elections with a new electoral council is in the range of 54.1% - 70.8%, depending on whether you just count people who were unable or unwilling to participate in November, or also the people whose votes did not count, or also the people whose votes counted, but who voted for candidates who have called for the November election to be annulled and have not changed their position.

Of course this dramatically understates the case relative to registered voters overall, because 4 in 10 of them did not participate in the 2006 presidential election either. But even in the subgroup who participated in 2006, the electoral data suggest that 54.1% - 70.8% would support a new election with a new electoral council.

To fail to act in the interests of the majority of Haitians, with the argument that a new election would be too costly,  would be "penny-wise, pound foolish." It's worth $30 million to protect $11 billion.

Originally posted to Robert Naiman on Wed Jan 12, 2011 at 11:48 AM PST.

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