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Despite Election Day Mishaps, Haitians Vote


Haitians stayed at the polls into the late hours Tuesday in the first democratic elections since former president Jean Bertrand Aristide went into exile following a violent uprising nearly two years ago. Millions turned out for the vote, in some cases overwhelming their polling sites.

Midline George woke up at dawn Tuesday to walk to her polling stations to vote for a new government. But, when she got to her polling site on lower Delmas in Port-au-Prince, she had no idea she would be in line for so long.

"I am hungry," she said. "I have been [here] since four in the morning. I left my kids at home alone, they have not eaten, it is 10:30 and we still have not voted."

Many polls opened hours late because a lack of materials, absent election workers, and missing ballots. There were other problems, too. Many Haitians found their names left off the voting register or that they had been assigned to the wrong voting booth.

Violence broke out in some polling sites. In Port-au-Prince, two elderly men died when crowds stampeded a polling center. Near the town of St. Marc, a policeman shot into a stampeding crowd, killing one. The policeman was then killed by the crowd of angry voters.

But overall, Haitians waited patiently to vote.

In a statement released by Provisional Election Council president Max Mathurin, the government sought to maintain calm.

"Despite the problems," he said, "we guarantee that every Haitian who has a voter identity card will have the chance to vote."

The polls remained open a few hours later to accommodate the voters. U.N. officials say that the population voted in large numbers. They say they hope this will be an important step to returning the country to legitimacy, after 20 years of instability and successive coups. Hundreds of international election monitors watched the vote.

There are 33 presidential candidates on the ballot. The frontrunner is a former president and Aristide protégé, Rene Preval. If no candidate receives the 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off election next month.

Ballots are returning to the capital by U.N. helicopter, and by mule over Haiti's mountain roads. Final results are expected Friday.

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