Intl. Observers Urge Reforms of US Elections

Published: Fri 22 Oct 2004 12:49 AM
Thursday, October 21st, 2004
International Observers Urge Reforms of US Elections
Say Change Needed to Boost Public Confidence
Non-Partisan Electoral Administration, Greater Poll Observation, and Paper Trails for Touch Screen Voting Among Proposals
In a report to be released Thursday, October 21, members of an unprecedente d international election observation team to the United States will recommend a series of reforms that should be made at the federal, state and county levels to guarantee fair elections in the U.S.
A Tele-press conference we will held on Thursday, Oct. 21 at 11 a.m. Easter n Daylight Time during which members of the observation group will discuss their findings and recommendations. Dial in: 800-247-5110 (888-259-2914 from Canada) Pass Code: Fair Elections.
The report is the result of two weeks of investigations in September during which the 20-person delegation of veteran election observers met with a range of citizen's groups, government officials, and policy experts in Washington, DC, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Missouri, and Ohio.
The international democracy experts came to the U.S. at the invitation of the human rights group Global Exchange to try to boost public confidence in the election in the wake of the Florida experience of 2000 and amid festering concerns about balloting technologies, allegations of minority disenfranchisement, and the role of money in politics.
In the 48-page report, the election observers write: "In many respects, the electoral landscape has improved since 2000. The delegation applauds the efforts of state and local officials to discover and implement creative solutions to many of the problems in their communities. Despite this collective goodwill, there are a number of existing problems that pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the 2004 General Election in the United States."
While acknowledging that there is insufficient time for implementing their recommendations before the upcoming election, the delegation notes it is never too late for transparency, and that if local elections officials welcome them at polling places, it will send a positive message to voters.
Among the observers' key recommendations are:
Non-Partisan Election Supervision.
"Partisan oversight and administration of elections is not the international norm, as it builds in the possibility for the perception of conflicts of interest. The delegation recommends that states establish independent and impartial bodies to administer, oversee, and certify elections."
Non-Partisan Observation of U.S. Elections.
"The delegation strongly endorses the recommendations of the OSCE, the Carter Center for Human Rights, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and other experts bodies that call for independent, non-partisan poll watchers, both domestic and international, to be welcomed at the polls and tabulation centers in 2004 and beyond. =8A As a confidence building measure, the delegation recommends that states invite domestic and international observers to help create an environment of civic transparency."
Paper Trail for Touch-Screen Voting.
"Transparency at the polls is critical and cannot be readily established without voter verification. The delegation recommends that every DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) machine in the U.S. be equipped with a mechanism for voter verification and a paper record. The delegation also recommends that open source coding be incorporated. In addition, front-end testing by an independent agency and parallel monitoring during elections should be adopted to achieve optimum transparency."
Universal Use of Provisional Ballots.
"In the immediate term, the delegation recommends that efforts to train poll workers on the correct distribution of provisional ballots are maximized and that to the extent possible, election administrators make adequate preparations for verifying and counting provisional ballots. In the longer term, provisional ballots should count for state and federal contests regardless of where the vote is cast; that was surely the intention of HAVA (Help America Vote Act of 2002)."
Re-enfranchise Ex-Felons.
"The delegation's concerns center on the permanent disenfranchisement of former felons, a practice that falls outsid e of international or even U.S. norms and is an unreasonable restriction that creates subcategories of citizenship. The delegation strongly recommends that those states that permanently disenfranchise felons -- Florida, Virginia, Nebraska, Mississippi, Kentucky, Iowa, Arizona, and Alabama -- amend their law s and practices to restore full citizenship to ex-offenders."
Public Financing for Elections.
"In circumstances where the amount a candidate spends is directly related to the likelihood of success, it is no t surprising that voters may sense that politicians are more concerned with big campaign contributors than with individual voters. The delegation strongly recommends a system of public financing for candidates for the U.S . House and Senate."
A second team of observers will be in the U.S. October 29 through November 5 to observe polling place practices in seven counties in Florida, Missouri, and Ohio.
"One of the surprising things we learned is that most voting jurisdictions have no mechanisms for non-partisan polling observation," says David MacDonald, a former Canadian Minister of Parliament and a member of the first team who will be returning to Missouri. "The Democrats get to pick their poll monitor and the Republican pick theirs. But who represents the interests of the growing percentage of Americans who are Independents? A system needs to be put in place that allows for international and domestic non-partisan poll observation."
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