By Ian Hoffman, Alameda Newspaper Group, August 6, 2004
The U.S. State Department has invited elections monitors from a European security outfit to observe U.S. elections in November.
After 13 House members, including Oakland Democrat Barbara Lee, asked the United Nations to send elections observers, they were lambasted by conservative pundits as un-American and worse. The Republican-majority House voted 243-161 to prohibit the U.S. government from backing the request.
It appears nonetheless that another international security body, the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will be sending a team out of Warsaw to look over the shoulders of U.S. elections officials.
The organization's members agreed in 1990 to let other nations observer their elections.
Assistant Secretary of State Paul Kelly mentioned the monitors in a recent letter to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, who led the original call for U.N. monitors.
"We share with you and your colleagues a profound commitment to strengthening democracy, not only overseas, but also here at home," Kelly wrote.
The elections assessment arm of OSCE sent 12 observers to Florida in the 2002 mid-term elections. Led by a Swiss diplomat, the team included elections officials from Bosnia, Russia, Canada, Britain and the United States, which belongs to the organization.
Two months later, they delivered a blend of praise and criticism for post-2000 voting reforms under Gov. Jeb Bush. They recommended more uniformity in voting systems, recounts and rules for purging voter rolls of felons. Florida still is struggling with all three, lately a faulty purge list.
"This represents a step in the right direction toward ensuring that this year's elections are fair and transparent," Lee said. She praised the State Department for inviting outside monitors.
Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog group in Davis, called the monitors a psychological boost for voters worried that their votes might not count.
"Even if their report gets lost in the drama afterward, the fact that somebody makes sure there are outside observers is something that will bring voters comfort," she said.