Sat, Nov 06, 2004 - Page 7 News List

OSCE monitors say US polls fair

AGENCIES , WASHINGTON

Swiss parliamentarian Barbara Haering, left, and Italian parliamentarian Giovanni Kessler, members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election-monitoring committee, speak at a news conference on Thursday in Washington.

PHOTO: AP

Voting in US elections this week was mostly fair, but the lines were too long at some polling stations, according to an international rights group monitoring the presidential contest for first time.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Thursday that before the vote it had received "widespread" allegations of fraud and voter suppression, mainly among minorities, and raised concern that confidence in the system could be undermined.

However, the group said it was unable to substantiate the allegations. It also said that on Tuesday it observed relatively few attempts to challenge a voter's eligibility, despite concerns before the vote.

Europe's top rights watchdog, which groups 55 countries including the US, said the election "mostly met" international standards for free and fair elections and defied fears of a repeat of 2000's debacle.

Invited by the US after disputes in the 2000 election over recounts and voter eligibility spawned legal battles in Florida, the OSCE sent about 90 monitors across the country this year for its first-full blown observation of a US presidential election.

In Ohio, which decided the winner when President George W. Bush captured its 20 Electoral College votes, it was common for people to stand in lines for two hours or more, and some polling stations had to remain open hours after they planned to close.

"Significant delays at the polling station are likely to deter some voters and may restrict the right to vote," the OSCE said in a preliminary report.

"While a solution to this problem may have cost implications, it is clearly desirable that steps are taken to reduce delays in future elections," it saidz.

The OSCE's observations basically matched civil-rights groups' assessments that while there were voting problems, they were not on such a widespread scale to call into question the result.

"The high turnout indicates the importance of this election for the electorate and the strong democratic tradition in this country," said Barbara Haering, chairman of the observer mission.

"Although it was not possible for our observers to access polling stations in all states ... it appears that the voting and the processing of ballots proceeded in an orderly manner," Haering said.

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