A group of experts from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has voiced concerns about US election procedures. OSCE monitors will observe voting in the US for the first time in November.
Experts laud US civil society but say the voting system is weak
While the report released by the OSCE this week praised the United States for its “vibrant civil society,” it said weaknesses in the voting system that were revealed in Florida and other states during the 2000 presidential elections have shaken voter confidence.
US President George W. Bush won that election amid widespread criticism that voting was marred in several states. In Florida, voters said that selecting candidates with punch-cards was confusing and led them to choose candidates they did not mean to vote for.
A team of five election experts who visited the United States in early September drafted the assessment and outlined potential problems after examining preparations for the plebiscite and talking with US election authorities, political parties, and organizations concerned about democratic processes.
Reforms may come too late
The United States did pass the Help America Vote Act in 2002 to reform the electoral system, but the team from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which is specialized in election monitoring, suggested that the legislation might not make a difference any time soon.
"The report mentions concerns that the impact of this legislation may fall short of expectations simply because of time -- that the full implementation may not have been possible," said Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for ODIHR. "We will see for sure in November once we have observed (the election)."
New voting machines won't provide for a paper trail in some states
The legislation must only be fully implemented by January 2006.
The OSCE report also said that “the nationwide replacement of voting equipment, inspired by the disputes witnessed during the 2000 elections, primarily in Florida, may potentially become a source of even greater controversy during the forthcoming elections.”
Many of the new touch-screen machines that will be used by up to 50 million voters on November 2 do not produce paper ballots that could be used during a possible manual re-count.
The election experts were also concerned about how voter registration lists and absentee ballots are handled and that problems resulting from new voting equipment may cause post-election haggling, thereby delaying the announcement of final results.
First OSCE monitoring in US
Although this is not the first time US authorities have invited the OSCE to observe presidential elections, it is the first time the organization has accepted the invitation by the State Department, Gunnarsdottir noted. It is part of the OSCE’s greater focus on elections in established democracies.
The OSCE has monitored elections throughout the world
The OSCE's role in elections is very clearly defined, according to Gunnarsdottir.
"This is a team that will be observing and will not be interfering in any way in the process," she said. "The people that we will be sending will observe the elections in a few states and then we will put out a public report. We are not there to intervene in the election but to observe."
The United States its one of 55 member countries in Europe and North America that make up the international organization. OSCE election monitoring missions have observed elections throughout the world, including recent elections in Kazakhstan. Observers from the organization will also monitor Afghan elections on October 9.