International election observer team arrives in U.S.
Jim Lobe
September/October 2004

Washington, September 17, 2004--A team of 20 independent democracy experts from 15 countries and five continents has arrived in the United States in order to observe this year's presidential election campaign.

The election monitors, who have been brought here by the San Francisco activist group "Global Exchange," will be fanning out in the coming days initially to research how the election preparations are being conducted in five states. They will then return just before the actual polling November 2.

The five states include Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Missouri, and Georgia. According to Global Exchange, Florida was selected due to the controversy that erupted there in the 2000 elections; Georgia because it is one of only two states where voters will use only touch-screen voting machines.

Arizona was picked because elections there are publicly financed, while Missouri was the scene of widespread reports of Republican efforts to suppress the black vote in 2000. Ohio was also of interest because it is expected to be one of the most hotly contested battleground states in this year's election.

"Many of us in this room have worked for many, many years in different situations and in different countries," said Brigalia Bam, one of the observers who also chairs South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission at a press conference at the National Press Club Thursday. "It is that experience that has brought us to the United States." She said all elections should be assessed by the degree to which they are "responsive, transparent, and fair."

Other observers, with similar qualifications, hail from Argentina, Australia, England, Canada, Chile, Ghana, India, Ireland, Mexico, Nicaragua, Philippines, Thailand, Wales and Zambia.

The Global Exchange group, which hopes to meet with local and state election authorities, as well as with civic groups that are also involved in getting out the vote and ensuring a fair election, is not the only international team that will be observing the November elections.

The State Department last month invited formally invited an observer delegation from the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a 55-nation body that encourages all member countries to observe each others' elections.

State Department officials stressed that the OSCE delegation will not have the authority to assess the fairness of the vote, but it will be expected to issue a report on any problems or shortcomings as part of a new program for all OSCE members.

That invitation drew praise from more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers who had asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to dispatch observers to the November elections earlier this summer.

In a letter to Annan, which the UN subsequently referred back to Powell, the lawmakers said they were concerned about the possibility of irregularities in the 2004 balloting.

"Given the deeply troubling events of the 2000 election, the growing concerns about the lack of necessary reforms and potential abuse in the 2004 election," the lawmakers wrote, "we believe that the engagement of international election monitors can be the catalyst to expedite the necessary reform, as well as reduce the likelihood of questionable practices and voter disenfranchisement on Election Day."

The letters drew outrage from many Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives. They promptly attached an amendment to the 2005 foreign-aid bill banning the use of any of that money to finance UN monitoring of the election.

"For over 200 years, this nation has conducted elections fairly and impartially, ensuring that each person's vote will count," said Rep. Stephen Buyer during debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. "Imagine going to your polling place on the morning of November 2 and seeing blue-helmeted foreigners inside your local library, school or fire station."

The delegation invited by Global Exchange said they were less likely to be watching specific polling places on Election Day as they were to be examining the larger process, particularly with respect to the possible disenfranchisement of voters.

"The potential for minority and specific groups to be disenfranchised, that's certainly ...a concern that needs to be closely looked at," said David MacDonald, a former Minister of Communications and Secretary of State under Progressive Conservative governments in Canada. ...

Global Exchange said the delegation marks the first major effort by a non-governmental organization (NGO) to monitor U.S. election processes. A spokesman added that some counties with which the group had made contact had invited the observers to meet with election officials and even attend tabulation centers on Election Day, while in other cases - notably Miami Dade County - no response has been forthcoming.

''I don't think they have anything they particularly want to hide from us," said Bam, who will be part of the team to be sent to Florida.

© Copyright 2004

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