International observers are recommending the US election process be reformed to boost public confidence and guarantee fair elections. After two weeks of meetings with citizens groups, government officials and policy experts, they’ve released a report entitled “Election Readiness: It’s Never Too Late For Transparency.”
The human rights group Global Exchange invited the twenty election observers to the United States. The group says it was concerned about lingering issues from the controversial 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. These include allegations of minority voter disenfranchisement, the role of money in politics and voting machine reliability.
Jason Mark is the Communications Director for Global Exchange.
He says, "Our single and most important goal with this project is to boost public confidence in our democracy and in US electoral systems. Because 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 what I believe is an unprecedented effort to sponsor a non-governmental civil society observation of the US elections."
The delegation members are observers not monitors, meaning they have no mandate to interfere should they spot any possible voting irregularities.
The group’s nearly 50-page report says, “In many respects, the electoral landscape has improved since 2000.” It praises efforts by local and state officials to find creative solutions to electoral problems. However, the report also says, “There are a number of existing problems that pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the 2004 General Election.”
Caerwyn Dwyfor Jones – an electoral management expert from Wales – says a key recommendation is non-partisan election supervision.
He says, "We believe partisan oversight and administration of elections is not the international norm as it builds in the possibility for deception of conflict of interest. The delegation recommends that states establish independent and impartial bodies to oversee to administer, oversee and certify elections."
Dr. Brigalia Bam, chairperson of South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission, was also surprised at the partisan make-up of US election commissions.
She says, "I thought that every country in the world has got an independent body that manages and supervises elections. I didn’t realize that a person in my position could also be a candidate. That surprised me, really, really surprised."
Dr. Bam is also concerned about US laws preventing some former felons from voting.
"Considering that the United States is one of the countries that have the oldest democracies in the world, a country of freedom, and I never realized such restrictions. That unfortunately leads to sub-categories of citizens and to a large exclusion of people of color," she says.
Other recommendations include having a paper trail to verify, if necessary, the results of the new touch screen computer voting machines; the training of poll workers on the correct distribution of provisional ballots; and public financing of elections.
The delegation says there’s not enough time to implement the recommendations for the November election. But it says, “It’s never too late for transparency and fair play.” Adding, “All democracies grapple with how to ensure that every vote counts…and that political contests occur on a level playing field.”
A second team sponsored by Global Exchange will observe November voting in Florida, Missouri and Ohio - three key states in the election’s outcome.