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Monitoring Group Hopes to Make Americans Feel Confident at Voting Booth

A international delegation is expressing concern with certain aspects of the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The group issued a report Thursday focusing on potential problems found during investigative trips last month to examine electoral systems in five U.S. states.

Following controversy over the results of the U.S. presidential election in 2000, the San Francisco-based non-governmental organization Global Exchange brought a group of experienced international election observers to the United States to watch this year's balloting.

Twenty international observers traveled to five different U.S. states for a pre-election survey.

Welsh delegation member Caerwyn Dwyfor Jones said one initial concern is electronic voting.

He said the system works especially well for people who are blind or who do not speak English as a first language. But he warned that all voters should be given a paper receipt to confirm their choice, especially if close election results need to be recounted.

"Without a paper trail, there's no way of certifying the initial result," said Mr. Jones.

He added that other recommendations include non-partisan election supervision and non-partisan election observation.

"We believe partisan oversight and administration of elections is not the international norm, as it builds in the possibility of the perception of conflict of interest," he added. "The delegation recommends that states establish independent and impartial bodies to administer, oversee and certify elections. Another recommendation is the non-partisan observation of U.S. elections."

The issue of independent election observation is directly relevant to the international delegation, which on election day, is sending 14 delegates to three U.S. states, Florida, Missouri and Ohio.

Australian member, Irene Baghoomians, said the delegation has received permission to be present at polling stations and tabulation centers in Missouri. She adds that although some permission has been granted in Florida and Ohio, the delegation is still awaiting approval from officials in several major counties.

"I would just like to emphasize the importance the delegation places on the actual physical presence of observers, preferably inside the polling stations, as well as tabulation centers," she said. "The reason for that is the whole idea of transparency and integrity of the system is very much predicated on the idea of openness."

Ms. Baghoomians stressed that the international visitors will be observing the election, but will not officially be monitoring it.

"There's a difference between observing and monitoring. We have no mandate to intervene," she added.

South African delegate Brigalia Bam said she hopes Americans will feel encouraged by the presence of international observers at the U.S. election, as a sign of global interest.

"We hope that the voters in the United States will feel confidence with the presence in the United States of observers, and will also really have the kind of trust and realize that they are also part of a world community that takes a lot of interest in the people of the United States, especially the people who have to participate in this very important process of democracy," she said.

Jason Mark, with Global Exchange, said one goal of the project is to help American voters feel more confident about the U.S. election process.

"The experience of Global Exchange and other democracy watchdog groups around the world has demonstrated that the presence of independent, non-partisan foreign election observers can play a key role in boosting public confidence and public participation in our elections," said Mr. Mark.

An official delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will also be observing the U.S. presidential election, on November 2.