Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Monitors studying US poll

THE GUARDIAN , LOS ANGELES

A team of international monitors is spending this week in five key states across the US observing preparations for the presidential vote in November.

The team of 20 intends to focus on three issues that arose in the wake of the controversial Florida vote in the 2000 election: concerns that some eligible voters are excluded from registering or voting, doubts over the security of voting electronically and worries about campaign financing.

The observers, from Europe, Latin America, Australia, India and the Philippines, will publish a report at the end of their stay identifying their concerns. A second, smaller team will return at the end of October to monitor the vote.

This week, monitors are in Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Arizona and Ohio, having spent the first five days of their stay meeting election officials in Washington.

"Perhaps the most important thing is that, for the first time, the election process in the US has been questioned, not just after the Florida fiasco," said one observer, Oscar Gonzalez, a former diplomat and ex-president of Mexico's Human Rights Academy. "It is the beginning of a wave of reform."

Gonzalez, with observers from Ghana, Australia and Chile, are spending this week in Arizona, investigating campaign finance reform, the political rights of the largest Native American tribe, the Navajo, and meeting Mormons and students as well as poll officials.

Georgia has been chosen because it is one of only two states where all voting will be electronic. There are concerns about whether the machines can withstand fraud and the lack of a paper audit.

Missouri experienced problems in 2000 that were similar to those in Florida, where former prisoners and many African Americans were excluded from voting lists. Ohio has been chosen because it is expected to be one of the closest swing states in the election.

The team has been assembled by Global Exchange, a non-governmental organization which has observed elections in 10 countries.

Ted Lewis, director of the fair elections project, said in a statement: "The presence of independent non-governmental observers can help boost public confidence in electoral processes. Our friends from around the world can help us enliven discussions about what it takes to keep a democracy vital ... and they are coming here to help us at a time when mistrust and polarization are eroding our national dialogue."

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