PORT-AU-PRINCE - A Haitian electoral court on Tuesday ordered authorities to test the reliability of last month's disputed presidential election results by conducting a random sample of vote count sheets.
The ruling by the National Electoral Litigation Office ordered an immediate audit of 12 percent of vote tallies nationwide, watched by Haitian and international monitors.
The panel's binding decision said the partial review was necessary to “shine a light” on the tabulation process at a warehouse computer center guarded by armed U.N. peacekeepers in Port-au-Prince. It declined a full recount or other measures sought by lawyers for three losing candidates alleging electoral fraud and errors in the tabulation process.
Among other complaints, the lawyers have asserted that some tally sheets were unfairly authorized even though voters didn't sign their ballots or mark them with fingerprints.
The decision to audit 12 percent of the tally sheets was trumpeted as a victory by factions that contested preliminary results showing a landslide victory for the candidate backed by ex-President Michel Martelly.
“The ruling is a significant achievement. It's a triumph for justice and reason,” said Axene Joseph, a lawyer who represents the Fanmi Lavalas party of fourth place presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse.
Tuesday's decision comes nine days before a deadline for publication of final results by Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council.
The panel of judges did not set a date by which the partial review must be completed.
Preliminary results issued late last month showed Jovenel Moise easily winning a Nov. 20 election redo against 26 rivals, topping the nearest challenger by more than 385,000 votes. The political newcomer backed by Martelly did not immediately comment on the Tuesday ruling.
Moise's Tet Kale party objected to an audit and has claimed victory following the preliminary results.
Haiti's electoral cycle began last year, but results of an October 2015 presidential vote showing Moise in the top spot were annulled after a special commission reported finding what appeared to be significant fraud and misconduct.
The redo election last month had a participation rate of 21 percent.