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    World election monitors face obstacles at U.S. polls By John-Thor Dalhburg LOS ANGELES TIMES Mon, Nov. 01, 2004
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2004
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      World election monitors face obstacles at U.S. polls
      By John-Thor Dalhburg
      Mon, Nov. 01, 2004

      MIAMI - If they can get in the door, election
      observers from the Organization for Security and
      Cooperation in Europe will be keeping an outsider's
      eye on the U.S. voting process Tuesday.

      For the first time, machinery created at U.S.
      government prompting to foster the spread of
      democratic elections throughout the former Soviet bloc
      will be used to assess how freely and fairly America
      chooses its chief executive.

      On Tuesday, at least 75 election monitors from OSCE,
      an intergovernmental organization founded to help
      bridge the East-West divide during the Cold War, plan
      to be on the ground in precincts from coast to coast
      to observe and deliver an independent evaluation of
      how America votes.

      Under its commitments as an OSCE member, the United
      States is required to invite the outside scrutiny of
      its electoral process.

      What the observers will be able to see firsthand,
      though, is still unclear.

      Konrad Olszewski has flown to Florida as part of the
      international team, but the elections adviser from
      Poland said Saturday he might not be able to get very
      close to the ballot box.

      Olszewski and another foreign observer from Canada
      were received courteously the previous day by Florida
      Secretary of State Glenda Hood but told that under the
      laws of this state poll-watchers must be registered
      voters in the county where they desire to observe the
      voting, and must submit written applications in
      advance, said Alia Faraj, Hood's spokeswoman.

      Olszewski said he came to his meeting with Hood in
      Tallahassee bearing documents from the U.S. State
      Department attesting to his status, but that made no
      difference as far as Florida law and officials were

      "The secretary of State welcomed us but said she
      really had no authority to give us access (to the
      polls) on Election Day," Olszewski, a former
      journalist with the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza,

      As of Saturday afternoon, Olszewski was in Miami,
      meeting with Miami-Dade County election officials and
      becoming resigned to the likelihood he would not be
      able to get inside polling places Tuesday.

      "I'm not very optimistic at the moment," he said. But,
      Olszewski said, he was being allowed in Miami to
      observe early voting and the opening of mail-in
      absentee ballots, and he had been told he could be
      present for the tallying of results.

      Urdur Gunnarsdottir, spokeswoman for the OSCE mission,
      said problems similar to those Olszewski is
      encountering have been cropping up in numerous locales
      because the United States, unlike many countries, has
      a decentralized elections system.

      "It's taking us a lot of time to get access to polling
      stations because we have to go to each and every
      county," Gunnarsdottir said from Washington.

      "I do not exclude that there will be polling places
      where we can't enter. But I don't believe we've
      exhausted all our means yet. We're still talking to
      people and getting great help from the Federal
      Election Commission, the State Department."

      Andrew Bruce, 34, a Briton who has been observing
      elections for the OSCE for four years, said he was
      planning to be in Ohio on Tuesday but that he didn't
      know whether he'd be allowed to watch people actually

      During a trip last week to Pennsylvania, Bruce said he
      and a fellow election monitor from Russia had tried to
      meet with that state's secretary of state and director
      of elections in Harrisburg, the state capital, but had
      to settle for a telephone conversation with the
      secretary's chief of staff.

      "There is so little awareness of the OSCE here," Bruce
      said. "People in the Balkans know a lot more about
      us." In former Soviet republics, including Armenia and
      Azerbaijan, where the organization has sent election
      observers, they've been received by the prime
      minister, Bruce said,

      Since 1991, the year the Soviet Union broke up, a
      Warsaw, Poland-based branch of the OSCE, the Office
      for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, has been
      responsible for observing elections in the 55 member

      Originally, the office focused on the often tortured
      transition from single-party to democratic rule in the
      former Soviet republics and satellite nations of
      Eastern Europe.

      Around 2000, however, the office began sending
      observers to watch and rate elections in established
      Western democracies, including France, Britain, Spain
      and the United States.

      This year, the OSCE has dispatched observation and
      assessment teams to view elections in Russia, Ukraine,
      Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kazakhstan and Belarus, among
      other nations.

      The idea of outside observers at a U.S. election
      doesn't sit well with all American politicians.

      "It strikes me as somewhat presumptuous that someone
      from a foreign land who is unfamiliar with our
      institutions and traditions would come in here and act
      as judge and jury on our elections," said Rep. Ron
      Paul, R-Texas.

      "And it is setting a precedent. What is it going to be
      like in 15-20 years? Could the United Nations then be
      running American elections?"

      The current OSCE mission's self-assigned task is not
      to tell Americans how to conduct their elections but
      to gauge how the Help America Vote Act is applied in
      practice, said Bruce.

      That U.S. law, signed by President Bush in 2002, sets
      minimum standards for the states to follow in key
      areas of running elections and provides federal funds
      to help pay for the upgrading and modernization of
      voting machines.

      The international monitors also plan to scrutinize how
      new electronic voting equipment performs, whether
      there are problems with early voting and provisional
      ballots, and if significant numbers of people are
      denied their right to vote.

      They plan to issue their preliminary findings


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