- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

Election monitors from Europe, who usually work in nations with limited experience in democracy like Chechnya and Siberia to expose voting fraud, praised the United States yesterday for holding a presidential election that “appeared to meet international standards for transparency and fairness.”

The assessment, by a 60-member delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), also said the United States had met election bench marks “despite isolated glitches and inconsistencies.”

In addition, the organization recommended that decentralized U.S. election laws should be harmonized so that citizens in all states have similar voting rights and restrictions.

The European monitors this week were dispatched to the Washington area, as well as battleground states throughout the country, to observe polling conduct and technology.

The mission was prompted by charges of vote suppression and fraud, especially in Florida during the 2000 election.

“The U.S. election mostly met the commitments of OSCE participating states,” said Barbara Haering, a longtime member of the Swiss parliament, who lead the six-day OSCE mission.

Though the observers were earnest and professional, almost to a fault, some Americans found their presence offensive.

“Americans do not need [U.N. Secretary-General] Kofi Annan or the OSCE intruding into their voting places to ensure the integrity of the system,” said Thomas Kilgannon, president of the Conservative Freedom Alliance.

“Liberal partisans who demand foreign election observers have lost faith in their neighbors and countrymen to conduct free and fair elections,” Mr. Kilgannon said.

U.S.-based voters’ rights groups generally concurred with the OSCE conclusions, saying the elections went better than they had anticipated because of heavily publicized concerns and the widespread mobilization of independent poll watchers.

The OSCE will issue a formal evaluation in six weeks, but participants said they expect to stress the need for clearer and more uniform election laws regarding the voting rights of released felons, registration procedures and the handling of provisional ballots, as well as those cast by absentee voters, military personnel and Americans living abroad.

Such reforms, they said, go beyond the landmark Help America Vote Act of 2001, which has not been widely implemented.

“The goal and responsibility of [the monitors] is to give a balanced picture of the election procedure in the United States,” Ms. Haering said.

Many of the OSCE’s two-person teams were barred from the very polling places they were sent to observe, to their surprise and dismay.

Observers in the District, Florida and Ohio were banned from polling places in accordance with state laws limiting access to nonvoters.

New Mexico has similar laws, but the state election office sent an official escort with the OSCE delegation.

Asked whether the Bush administration, which reluctantly invited the OSCE to send observers, could have done more to ensure access, officials were hesitant to criticize.

The Vienna, Austria-based organization, in theory, has an open invitation from its 55 member nations, which includes the United States. But this was its first large-scale deployment here.a

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