FLORIDA BLOCKS INTERNATIONAL ELECTION MONITORS IN VIOLATION OF U.S. TREATY
- World election monitors face obstacles at U.S. polls
By John-Thor Dalhburg
LOS ANGELES TIMES
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
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
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
"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
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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