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OSCE Observers Praise US Election

More than 90 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) fanned out across the United States to observe the presidential election. Their preliminary report praises the passion and professionalism at most polls, but suggest that reforms still are needed.

The OSCE mission says the U.S. election was great, but not perfect. The preliminary report says the orderly and peaceful process reflects the country's long-standing democratic tradition, including the rule of law, free and competitive media and an active civil society.

Swiss parliament member Barbara Haering led the three-month long observer mission in the United States.

"The high turnout indicates the importance of this election for the electorate and the strong democratic tradition of this country," said Barbara Haering.

But the OSCE report also says there is room for improvement. In contrast to many others of the 55 member-states, the United States holds its elections on a regular work day. In most states, the polls are open from early morning to mid- or late evening.

Still, OSCE observer Giovanni Kessler said waiting time, which sometimes stretched to several hours, should be reduced because many people cannot afford to be away from their jobs that long.

"Something has to be done to this regard, either prolonging the voting time or implementing the number of polling station or voting equipment in terms of number of voting booths," said Giovanni Kessler. "Something has to be carried out. Otherwise, voters can be affected, especially on a social basis. There are mostly poorer people, working people on a salary basis who could not possibly afford to miss half a day working in order to vote."

Mr. Kessler and other OSCE observers said voter patience in the long lines surprised them and underscored the passion and commitment Americans had to the 2004 presidential election.

Another concern expressed by OSCE observer Rita Suessmuth was how much rules varied, especially for provisional ballots and voter registration. Acknowledging the decentralized nature of the U.S. federal system, she says the OSCE still suggests more uniform voting rules to reduce the potential for errors.

"What we recommend is to have rules that are the same for everybody, for instance for the provisional voting or when you look at different rules for former felons," said Rita Suessmuth. "In one state they have the right to vote and in another state they do not have. And there, our recommendation is to have clarification and the same rules for each citizen."

The observers also noted the need for more information about the paper-free electronic voting machines that have raised some concerns of potential fraud.

The U.S. government invited OSCE observers to monitor the pre-election campaign and voting process under an agreement that reaffirms the commitment of all 55 OSCE member-states to transparency and accountability. The organization has observed more than 150 elections among its members.