Observers report glitches during US election | US presidential elections 2016: What do I need to know? | DW | 09.11.2012
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US elections 2016

Observers report glitches during US election

With the 2012 US presidential election over, criticism including vote-counting problems, shut-out observers and confusing voting processes have surfaced. The situation has apparently not improved since the last election.

The US state of Pennsylvania is among the most recent to have passed a voter identification law. Despite a court repealing the law shortly before the vote, since not all Americans have identification, many election workers weren't aware of the legal change. The result was that some voters were turned away at the polls.

Overwhelmed poll workers, broken voting machines, long lines in front of polling places and erroneous voter lists were among the irregularities present in the most recent US presidential election, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to which the United States and Canada also belong.

German parliamentarian Jürgen Klimke was among the 80 OSCE observers who attended to the voting in Maryland and Washington, DC. Klimke complained to the German daily "Die Welt" that a broad audit of the US vote was impossible. Klimke said he was prevented from carrying out his work, and other observers weren't able to enter every polling location. These observations led Klimke to the conclusion that it was "not a completely democratic election."

US presidential candidates are listed as an elections official demonstrates a touch-screen voting machine

Americans voted with pen, keyboard and even touchscreen

'We're fine'

OSCE spokesperson Thomas Rymer didn't share the harsh view of his German colleague, although he did describe cases where election observers literally had to wait at the door. Rymer confirmed that observers weren't allowed into every polling place, while at some, they had to maintain a distance of 100 feet (about 30 meters).

"There were a couple of instances where attorneys general in states went very public threatening our observers with criminal prosecution if they attempted to enter polling stations," Rymer told DW.

DW's US correspondent Christina Bergmann confirmed this, although she was convinced that this was not intended to cover up any irregularities. In some places, voters simply don't like the idea of someone looking over their shoulder, she said. Bergmann indicated that the behavior of such US voters simply reflects the attitude, "What we're doing here is fine. What do you actually want here?"

Continued need for change

Rymer said the OSCE has been monitoring US elections since 2002. "This is not the first time we've encountered this difficulty, and we've noted this in previous reports," Rymer said.

The reports garner international attention, Bergmann said, leading those responsible to the conclusion "that something has to happen there. And they're also making efforts to improve the situation."

For Rymer, what's being done is not enough - he said too many conditions are left unaddressed. Despite some states having made efforts, "there were still difficulties with the process."

Florida, for example, can't seem to get a handle on its vote-counting process, Bergmann said. The southern US state suffered problems in previous elections, and now it takes longer than any other state to complete its count.

President Barack Obama gathers with wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia

Rymer thinks the media presented relatively pluralistic coverage during this election

Confusion and uncertainty

Above all, Rymer criticized the fact that voters didn't know how to identify themselves, or that they were told the wrong date for voting. Especially disturbing was that changes in electoral laws were made at the last moment.

This is "generally considered bad practice, internationally. Because nobody knows what the rules are, that they're about to be playing with," Rymer said.

In addition, differing voting laws can make things confusing for voters, Bergmann said. She reported meeting one voter who voted electronically for four years, then had to go back to filling out a ballot by hand. "That can definitely be confusing," she said.

In the United States, electoral laws are set by each of the 50 states, so there are dozens of different laws. Voting rules can even vary by county or city as the nation lacks a unified voting process.

Proud of democracy

For Rymer, the media were also an important factor in this year's election. Media coverage was diverse, presenting a wide variety if views. Although some quite partisan views were expressed, others were "very balanced ... these were a few of the very positive aspects we found," Rymer said.

Rymer was also impressed by the attitude of voters, who despite a few limitations, proudly exercised their democratic right to vote.

Bergmann confirmed this, noting a distinct stance of voters. On the East Coast, where Hurricane Sandy recently wreaked havoc, voters defied difficult conditions. Bergmann said she was impressed with the "pride of the voters, who had to wait for hours and hours."

Polling places opened at 6 a.m., and people had to wait in the cold. "But their pride predominated, to say 'We have the right to vote, and we're going to exercise it. We'll wait for as long as we have to,'" Bergmann said.

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