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Foreign observers to audit election

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The Bush administration has invited a team of international monitors to observe the U.S. presidential election in November, but the group will not come from the United Nations, as some congressional Democrats had urged.

Assistant Secretary of State Paul V. Kelly, who handles legislative affairs for the department, affirmed the invitation this week in a letter to 13 House Democrats. They had requested U.N. monitors for this year's elections in an effort to avoid the charges of disenfranchisement and voting irregularities that plagued the 2000 election, the closest in history.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the largest regional organization in the world with 55 participating nations, will monitor the U.S. election on Nov. 2. Members include Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain and the United States.

"OSCE members, including the United States, agreed in 1990 in Copenhagen to allow fellow members to observe elections in one another's countries," Mr. Kelly wrote. "Consistent with this commitment, the United States has already invited the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to observe the November 2, 2004, presidential elections."

The OSCE, headquartered in Vienna, Austria, has deployed observers to more than 150 elections in Europe and around the world, according to Urdur Gunnarsdottir, spokeswoman for the ODIHR. She said the observer team would arrive in September to plan how to monitor the election, including how many observers to send and where to deploy them.

OSCE officials deployed an observer team to monitor the most recent U.S. elections, on Nov. 5, 2002.

She said the OSCE does not have authority over the election results in any way. "We don't give them a yes or a no or grade them," she said. "But we monitor, we publicize what we see. You can call it political pressure."

The Democrats who had pushed for U.N. involvement applauded the move, saying it may help avoid what they say was disenfranchisement of voters during the 2000 election in Florida and other states.

"This represents a step in the right direction toward ensuring that this year's elections are fair and transparent," said Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat. "I am pleased that the State Department responded by acting on this need for international monitors. We sincerely hope that the presence of the monitors will make certain that every person's voice is heard, every person's vote is counted."

She said that filmmaker Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" showed "that the 2000 presidential elections were rife with deception and fraud."

"Our elections certainly should be fair and free and transparent, and we know the last election was not," she added.

According to Votewatch 2004.org, 4 million to 6 million voters "were voiceless in the 2000 elections due to faulty equipment and confusing ballots (1.5 million to 2 million), registration mix-ups (1.5 million to 3 million), polling-place operations (up to 1 million), absentee-ballot problems (unknown)."

The Justice Department said in May 2002 it had concluded that the vast majority of Floridians were not denied their right to vote during the 2000 presidential elections, and that the few problems that did exist could not have affected President Bush's victory.

"The Civil Rights Division found no credible evidence in our investigations that Floridians were intentionally denied their right to vote during the November 2000 election," Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd wrote in a letter to Capitol Hill.

Two separate media recounts concluded that Mr. Bush carried Florida and, therefore, won the election. But Democrats, especially black leaders such as Jesse Jackson, continue to charge that blacks were disenfranchised and that Mr. Bush "stole" the election through a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Thirteen Democrats in the House first sent a letter in July to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking that the world body monitor the U.S. election. But under U.N. guidelines, the official written request for electoral assistance must come from a representative of the "member state" or "national electoral authorities" -- meaning the Bush administration itself, not the legislature.

The GOP-controlled House last month passed an amendment to a foreign-aid bill barring federal officials from using money to ask the United Nations to observe the Nov. 2 election. Rep. Steve Buyer, Indiana Republican and sponsor of the amendment, fiercely opposed U.N. participation.

"For over 200 years, this nation has conducted elections fairly and impartially, ensuring that each person's vote will count. ... Imagine going to your polling place on the morning of November 2 and seeing blue-helmeted foreigners inside your local library, school or fire station. The United Nations has sent monitors to Haiti, Nicaragua, Angola, Mozambique ... and now the United States?" Mr. Buyer said on July 15.

"The constitutional authority to ensure the integrity of U.S. elections rests with the states and the Congress. ... This amendment merely seeks to keep it that way," he added.

The Democrats then requested monitors through the State Department in a letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

"I am pleased that Secretary Powell is as committed as I am to a fair and democratic process," Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat, said after the State Department announced it would allow observers. "The presence of monitors will assure Americans that America cares about their votes and it cares about its standing in the world."

Mr. Bush also weighed in yesterday on the subject during a question-and-answer period at the Unity minority journalists convention in Washington.

"Look, I can understand why African Americans, in particular, are worried about being able to vote, since the vote had been denied for so long in the South, in particular. I understand that. And this administration wants everybody to vote," Mr. Bush said.

"Just don't focus on Florida. Now, I'll talk to the governor down there to make sure it works," he said to laughter, referring to his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush. "But it's the whole country. ... Voter-registration files need to be updated, the machines need to work. And that's why there's $3 billion in the budget to help. ... Obviously, everybody ought to have a vote."

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