Brillant and I got a relatively late start covering the presidential run-off between Michel Martelly and Leslie Manigat, setting out on foot from the Palm Inn at about 10:30. It being a national holiday, for the first few blocks of our trek in the general direction of downtown we saw only a handful of other pedestrians and the very occasional car or pickup. We arrived at our first polling station, a fairly large school, after about a ten minute stroll.
In the courtyard beyond the open gate, voters were coming and going. There was an orderly line of twenty or thirty people standing in the sun waiting to enter the building. A fried plantain vendor circulated, carrying his stock in a wire basket balanced on his head. Going to the head of the line and peering inside, I saw two election workers sitting at a desk checking voter identification cards.
Brillant slipped in and asked them if I could come in to take pictures. They said I could if I had a press identification card, which, technically, I didn’t. Partly because of this, but more because the interior was so dark that it would have been impossible to photograph without using flash, I chose to move on and hope for better conditions.
Our next stop, just a few blocks down the road, wasn’t a polling place, but rather the Centre du Vote where voters went to locate their Delmas 31 polling places. Within another courtyard, six rows of eight and a half by eleven inch typewritten pages placed edge to edge stretched along a wall fifty yards long. Voters peered at the pages searching for their names. In the center of the courtyard, a poll worker surrounded by people sat holding what looked like the same information contained in a sheaf of paper. While I was photographing this scene, another poll worker challenged me.
Brillant told him that I’m a journalist from the U.S. covering the election and showed him my business card. This satisfied him and he gave me a thumbs-up to show his approval. Apparently, the bar for press credentials is pretty low here, which is a good thing for me. Of course, under the circumstances, there was really no reason to suspect that I was anything other than what I appeared to be.
From the Centre du Vote we walked to a fairly major artery that would take us further towards downtown. Here, we saw tap-taps running and hopped aboard one. Reaching the point where we needed to change, we found ourselves across the street from another school. We went upstairs to a classroom where people were actually voting and this time the light was sufficient to allow me to take pictures without using flash. Brillant did his card trick again and I was cleared to proceed.
For the next half-hour or so we remained there and in an adjoining room that could be accessed through a hole in the wall. The activities to photograph were voters getting their ballots, marking them behind a cardboard screen about three feet tall and divided into four quadrants, placing them in the voting boxes and having their fingers marked to show that they had voted. Interestingly, for all their reluctance to be photographed generally, people by and large didn’t object to being photographed voting and a number of them seemed positively happy about it. I asked Brillant about this.
“I think it is because this is a public thing and everybody understands that. People are used to elections being photographed. When we go to the camps it is a personal thing and people are more suspicious.”
As we got closer to downtown, we came upon the first polling place we had seen with U.N. troops providing security. As we approached, an APC rumbled by and outside we found a small detachment of Brazilian troops, fully outfitted with weapons and blue helmets, flanking the entrance. Once inside we found much the same scene as the one we had just left. The only security issue we observed involved a voter who had lost his voter identification card, but was demanding to be allowed to vote anyway. This resulted in some raised voices, but finally the man left peacefully, accompanied by a couple of poll watchers, without voting. From here we continued towards the Champs de Mars and the Presidential Palace, shortly coming to a large, three story school very near them.
Here we encountered the most significant U.N. presence of the day. In addition to numerous troops standing outside the entrance, there was an APC parked just down the street. The reason for this heightened security was probably related both to the size and the location of the school, being near the seat of the Haitian government and in an area known for its insecurity. However, inside the expansive courtyard calm prevailed as voting proceeded in an orderly fashion. Moving past the Champs de Mars tent camp and the Presidential Palace through streets largely empty except for U.N. peacekeepers, we reached our last stop, a small school, a little after four.
Outside, there were just a few U.N. soldiers standing guard as voters looked for their names on the courtyard wall in the declining afternoon light. Upon entering, I saw open air classrooms to my left and internal classrooms to my right. Given that the light was relatively good in the open air rooms, I spent my time photographing there. The polls were scheduled to close at five and business seemed to be dropping off. Many of the poll workers, with nothing else to do, stood around chatting. It was a quiet end to what appeared to be a quiet election day in the capital.