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Postelection Statement on Dominican Republic Elections, May 18, 2000

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.

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 benefitted 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.

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. Though reactions to the results by candidates, parties and the public are still emerging, it appears at this point that the election has been successful overall. The Dominican people demonstrated great enthusiasm, patience and fortitude on May 16, as they went to the polls to cast their votes for a new president. Turnout was high, at about 74 percent, though it was higher in the previous presidential election.

Political party delegates from at least the three main parties were present at every voting place observed. Independent nonpartisan observers, both national and international, enjoyed full access to every phase of the process. To date, we have not had any allegations of a systematic effort to miscount the ballots or alter results. Some widely anticipated problems, such as inconsistencies in the voter registry, did not materialize. Indeed, the voter registry containing color photos of virtually all voters provided a degree of certitude about the identity of voters that should, as it is perfected in future years, provide a substantial new degree of security and confidence in the electoral process.

Many thousands of men and women performed a vital civic duty as they participated in this process as election officials at the colegio, municipal and national levels, party delegados, nonpartisan national monitors, security personnel, etc. They are to be congratulated for making this a largely successful election.

Disenfranchisement of some voters. This election was not without its problems, and it is important that they be acknowledged without being exaggerated. The narrow margins in the (provisional) results of the May 16 election remind us that every vote matters, yet it is clear that an indeterminate number of Dominicans were deprived of the opportunity to cast their ballots this week for one of several reasons relating to the system and its implementation that are discussed below. At this time, however, it is not clear that this disenfranchisement affected any party disproportionately.

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.

Discrimination. In more than one province that the delegation visited, teams reported several cases of polling officials not allowing blacks to vote, alleging they were Haitian simply on the basis of their skin color in spite of their fluency in Spanish and despite their valid cedulas and appearance in the voter registry. Regional leaders of the PRD told observers in two provinces that the Department of Migration had taken the cedulas of blacks said to be Haitian. One day before the elections, the press reported that the JCE stated that they had received hundreds of cedulas belonging to such individuals from the Department of Migration, and promised to return them.

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.

Diminished confidence. Great care must constantly be taken to ensure that the electoral process is above reproach. Unfortunately, confidence in the Central Election Board (the Junta Central Electoral, or JCE) on the part of two of the three principal political parties, compared to the 1996 and 1998, was diminished due to its partisan origins in the Senate appointment process. This was not overcome fully by the subsequent addition of nominees of the two disgruntled parties. Even though complaints and short-comings were addressed, and in some cases resolved, the JCE was never able to emerge fully from the shadow of controversy and allegations of partisanship. The fact that the integrity of the election system itself has become as controversial as it has this year should be a cause of concern to all Dominicans, and especially to the next government.

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.

Election Administration. The current framework is largely the product of political negotiations and compromise that occurred following the seriously flawed 1994 elections, in which tens of thousands of Dominican voters were denied their right to vote due to fraudulent practices and the outcome of the election was probably changed as a result. For the 1996 elections, the JCE was selected through political consensus between the parties and civil society. This and the subsequent 1998 elections in the Dominican Republic were accepted by the citizens and political contestants alike as democratic and well-administered. The current elections provided an important opportunity to continue the institutionalization of democratic processes advances of recent years -- though that potential was not fully realized.

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.

Cedulas. The cedulization process proved to be much slower and complicated than anticipated. The process was originally scheduled to conclude on December 31, 1999 but was extended until May 14, 2000 in order to provide the JCE additional time to process and print the identification cards and to insure that voters had the opportunity to receive their cedulas. The retrieval of cedulas was difficult for hundreds of thousands of Dominicans, with reports of persons returning to the Junta more than 10 times. Moreover, there apeared to be little consistency in the methodology for application and processing of the cedulas. However, with a massive effort on the part of the Junta and commendable cooperation of the political parties, by May 14 the JCE announced that only 100,000 cedulas remained in their control, some of which were not returned due to citizens death or move out of the country.

Electoral Registry and Verification Exercise. In the months before the elections, concerns had been raised about the accuracy of the voter registry. On March 25 and 26, the JCE organized a verification exercise which allowed voters to confirm that their name, photo and polling site were accurately recorded on the padron. Approximately 30% of the voting population took advantage of this opportunity to verify their data.

This was the first time that the JCE had organized such an event and by doing so demonstrated good faith in trying to identify and resolve problems. As a result of this exercise, moreover, the JCE also established telephone hotlines, organized a public education campaign and decided to provide information kiosks and trained facilitators on election day to assist voters with any potential problems. These efforts greatly reduced the risk of disenfranchising voters though not all of them seemed to bear fruit on election day.

Campaign Environment. In general, this years campaign was much more peaceful than those of previous years, and Dominicans reported that there was more respect for the exercise of electoral rights by opposing party activists. There was a decline in politically motivated violence, although several deaths in the weeks before the election were an unfortunate exception.

Training of Polling Officials. A concern raised prior to the election included shortcomings in the so-called Acascade@ method of training pollworkers. This system can be effective for training large numbers of people in short periods of time. There is a major challenge in this system, however, in ensuring that the quality of the training is maintained at every stage throughout the process. Despite efforts to improve training procedures, on election day many polling place officials lacked the proper skills to effectively manage the polling sites. This failure to adequately prepare polling place officials led to an inconsistency in the voting procedures used at the colegios electorales, delayed the balloting process and frustrated voters and pollworkers alike.

National Election Monitors. As in the 1996 and 1998 elections, the Dominican Republic benefitted greatly both during the campaign period and on election day from the contribution of Participación Ciudadana, a nonpartisan election observer organization. This civic organization has played an important role in helping to increase confidence and participation in the election process, and to provide a practical lesson in democratic procedures and citizen responsibility for thousands of young volunteers. NDI and The Carter Center wish to acknowledge with great appreciation the role Participación Ciudadana played in assisting its staff with logistical concerns and providing substantive orientation for its delegates prior to deployment.

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).

Electoral Police. The delegation recognized the important role played on election day by the electoral police, a joint task force of military and police personnel assigned to provide security at the direction of civilian electoral officials. In what were often crowded and somewhat chaotic polling centers, they effectively facilitated the process. The delegation observed, however, that in some cases the electoral police impeded the voting process in the interest of keeping order. This was particularly the case in crowded polling station where voters were locked outside of the gates while waiting to sign-in and to vote, and in some cases were prevented from doing so. In some other cases, the electoral police were not sufficiently active in facilitating an orderly voting process.

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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