- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

An international organization that normally observes suspect elections in Third World countries will observe U.S. elections in Florida on Tuesday, but no federal and state officials have acknowledged inviting the group.
The observations will be made by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the State Department has confirmed.
So far this year the OSCE has observed elections in Montenegro, Bosnia, Latvia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Macedonia. They did not observe Iraq elections, however, where Saddam Hussein won re-election with a reported 100 percent turnout and 100 percent of the vote.
A state department spokesman initially said the invitation was made by the Florida Board of Elections and was being facilitated by the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers.
However, a letter obtained last night by The Washington Times from OSCE to the Florida Secretary of State said the invitation came from the State Department.
"Following an invitation from the U.S. State Department [OSCE] will visit the United States between 30 Oct. and 7 Nov. to assess the improvements in the electoral process after the 2000 elections in Florida and to learn from the good practices adopted," said the letter from Hrair Balian, head of the elections section.
The assessment team includes election officials from Russia, Bosnia and Switzerland Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann.
The letter asks for accreditation for team members to enter polling places and meet with election officials.
Officials in the clerk's organization said they were unaware the observations were taking place until contacted by The Times.
"They might have been invited, but not by us," said Robert Parten, vice president and elections administrator. "That would be very unusual for our organization to invite them to monitor an election in Florida."
A congressional source said the invitation was made by the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, Stephan M. Minikes.
The State Department later said its information on the invitee was secondhand and refereed further questions to the OSCE in Austria. A spokesman could not be reached for comment at the department after the letter was received.
The suggestion to monitor Florida elections was first made by Russian President Vladimir Putin the day after the 2000 election fiasco.
Florida Republicans laughed at the prospect of an organization that normally observes questionable elections in Third World countries focusing on Florida, but conceded this year's election process is again in turmoil.
"We need all the help we can get. It's a banana republic already why not take Russia along with it," said Chris Paulitz, spokesman for Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican.
Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican, said observers "or help from the Vatican won't help."
"It would be much better if they sent someone down to show them how to plug in the machines," Mr. Mica said.
"If they have another fiasco in South Florida, the governor should remove the election supervisors, and that is certainly one solution. Unfortunately, they have packed some of these election worker staffs with a bunch of incompetent political cronies," Mr. Mica said.
Observers arrived in Florida yesterday. The Austria-based OSCE includes 55 participating states from Europe, Central Asia and North America. It is not a United Nations body but it is endorsed by the U.N. Security Council to help maintain international peace and security.
Republican and Democratic congressional staff from the House Administration Committee will also be dispatched to observe the elections in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
"We're sending down the eyes and ears of Congress to help the stumbling and fumbling Keystone Kops," said Mr. Foley, who requested the congressional observation.
Information gathered will be used for committee oversight of the new Federal Election Assistance Commission and evaluation of future legislation regarding federal elections.

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