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International Monitors Prepare to Observe US Presidential Election  - 2004-09-16

At least two delegations of foreign observers from more than a dozen countries are preparing to monitor the U.S. presidential election in November. Members of one observer group say monitoring is an important part of the electoral process to ensure transparency and share experiences in the interest of improving the democratic process around the world.

A San Francisco-based, non-governmental organization, Global Exchange, is hosting 20 foreign observers from 15 countries.

Delegation member Brigalia Bam, who chairs South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission, said it is important that people overseas see the American election results as valid. "Many of us in this room have worked for many, many years in different situations and in different countries. And it is that experience that has brought us to the United States. We are people who are committed to reforming the electoral systems, and many countries in the world, including the United States, is engaged in that exercise of making sure that the elections that are run are responsive, they are transparent and they are fair. And those things are very, very basic," she said.

Another delegation member, Horacio Boneo, an Argentinean who has assisted with and observed elections in more than 60 countries, said it is increasingly common for international monitors to observe elections in western democracies. He pointed to a clause in the treaty of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that invites observers from other states to observe elections. "So, on the basis of this OSCE experience, I recall, for example, that elections in Denmark had been observed. Elections in England, in Wales, and, I think, North Ireland, I'm not quite sure, but probably, and I think that it will be an increasing phenomenon. Because, in all places, there is a need for sharing experiences and there is always room to improve," he said.

For the first time, the OSCE is also sending a delegation to the United States to observe the presidential election.

The independent Global Exchange group will focus on three main issues, according to delegation member David MacDonald, the former secretary of state of Canada. "The potential for minority and specific groups to be disenfranchised, that's certainly one issue that seems to extend in many different quarters, a concern that needs to be closely looked at. The issue of how people vote, we just had that discussion, electronic voting machines. And then, the influence of money, and how that's all worked out. I mean, those seem to me to be, if I may dare say this, not just issues for Americans. They're issues that affect all of us, because we're all struggling with these," he said.

Damaso Magbual, is deputy secretary general for the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections, in the Philippines, the oldest election monitoring group in Asia. He has monitored elections in 15 other countries, and says he now welcomes the chance to observe a U.S. presidential election. "I think it's productive that America should also invite observers, because, if we judge ourselves, we wouldn't be judged. We may think we are the best, you see. It's always best to have others see it from an outside perspective, to find out how things are," he said.

Mr. Magbual said this will also be a great learning experience for him. He says many of the institutions in the Philippines were patterned after those in the United States, so he says he is certain to have useful suggestions he can bring back to his own country.

Other observers in the Global Exchange-sponsored group come from Australia, Britian, Chile, Ghana, India, Ireland, Mexico, Nicaragua, Thailand and Zambia. They plan to observe the elections in the U.S. states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Missouri.

Elections in the United States are subject to state and local regulations, so access depends on permission from local authorities. Global Exchange organizers say they are confident they will be present in tabulation centers in some states, but have not yet obtained all the permission they are seeking.