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VOTER REGISTRATION A BOOM OR BUST? FRAUD IS SUSPECTED

Electoral officials boast that nearly every potential voter is rushing to register for upcoming elections. But spot checks of registration offices suggest that's not the case, and critics smell fraud.

Reports of widespread fraud could discredit the independent Electoral Council and embarrass the United States and the United Nations, which are deeply involved in restoring democracy in Haiti.Politicians and electoral officials have reported voter cards being sold, and police have found people with several cards registered in one name. Critics accuse local electoral officials of selling voter cards to the highest bidder, regardless of their political leanings.

"It is my impression there is widespread fraud," said Andre Brutus of the National Progressive Revolutionary Party. "There is absolutely no voter enthusiasm, and yet the registration bureaus report full registration ledgers."

The June 25 elections for 110 legislative seats and nearly 700 local officers will shape Haiti's political landscape. Supporters of leftist President Jean-Bertrand Aristide would be expected to sweep the stakes of a fair election, but widespread selling of votes could affect the outcome.

The elections could be a last opportunity for the small, conservative elite that ruled for centuries to recapture power.

Though there have been only isolated incidents of violence, right-wing extremists have been blamed for five attacks on provincial electoral offices this month.

On Friday, a gang of men attacked a bureau on the road to Port-au-Prince airport and took off with registration materials, apparently including voters cards, private Signal FM radio reported.

Since registration began a month ago, frequent checks of Port-au-Prince registration bureaus by reporters have proved negative. In dramatic contrast to the 1990 elections that Aristide won in a landslide, either bureaus were closed or few people were registering.