I’ll never forget the wrinkled face of a frustrated voter in a schoolyard in the town of Hinche, Haiti.
Each line told a different story of the hardship he faced — corrupt governments, poverty, an earthquake, the painfully slow dispersal of aid and now a cholera epidemic. Yet, at noon-hour on that hot, tension-filled November day, he still turned up to cast a ballot for a new president and a new future.
Sadly, I never learned his name — I’m not sure he did either.
“I can’t read this,” he said, uncomfortably handing his voter’s card to an election official.
The official sounded frustrated as he said, “J–your name begins with J.” Then, he waved the man off towards one of the handwritten lists tacked to classroom doors around the schoolyard indicating who could vote at what booth.
As the nameless man disappeared into the crowd around the paper, I could almost see another line etch his face. I lost him before determining if he ever exercised his democratic right.
Illiteracy — a problem affecting approximately 50 percent of Haitians — is an invisible epidemic. It’s doesn’t produce dramatic photos. But, it’s inextricably linked to the violence, fraud and disorder plaguing Haiti’s electoral process.
This Sunday, two candidates went head-to-head in the second round of voting for the majority win needed to become president. Even though new measures were taken to produce a fair election, a democracy can’t be built in a day.
In November, it was evident the election official who directed the nameless man had fielded the same request dozens of times. Throughout the schoolyard the illiterate sought help finding their names. At one door, a woman anxiously watched a young man hold her identification card while runing his fingertips up and down a list scanning for her name.
When he couldn’t find it, the pair moved on to another door, another list, another exercise in humiliation.
The girl’s frustration was obvious in her sunken shoulders. But, about 100 kilometres south in Port-au-Prince, it boiled over in the streets, and protesters immobilized the city. Fraud was reported at numerous voting stations. It was ballot stuffing and vote buying — more so, it was intimidation and deception.
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