- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

ORLANDO, Fla. — European election monitors touring central Florida were dismayed yesterday at their local hosts’ emphasis on Democratic events, saying their schedule of pro-Kerry and left-leaning themes has left little time for similar Republican visits.

The day started with a small airport rally for Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, who appeared to promise a senior member of the delegation that he would commit to reforming federal election processes.

The four-member delegation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also listened to filmmaker Michael Moore address the League of Conservation Voters and visited a polling station in Sanford, Fla., which was the site of voting irregularities four years ago.

“I would say we are dismayed,” said Bart Tommelein, a Belgian congressman, of missing a Bush campaign rally that coincided with their arrival here Saturday evening.

“We are neutral, you know, and we really should be spending more time with the other side.”

Other OSCE observers concurred.

The group, which has been shuttled around Orlando in cars with Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers yesterday, rebelled against a planned visit to a campaign rally for Democratic Senate hopeful Betty Castor, who is running against former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez.

But the Republicans, at least in Florida, have not been so welcoming to the observers.

The group attempted to visit Bush headquarters in Orlando, but they were abruptly turned away by Republican Party officials who said their volunteers were “too focused on getting out the vote” to be distracted by the foreign monitors.

“I got an e-mail at, like, midnight, saying we did not want to do this,” said Todd Sykes, the Republican field director for Orange County, as he moved the startled election monitors toward the office door.

When Carina Christensen, a Conservative Party member of the Danish Parliament, asked about Republican campaign events in the area, Mr. Sykes told her that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was speaking downtown and suggested that the OSCE monitors “leave now” to catch it.

A campaign volunteer later went out to the parking lot and, while local police looked on, talked about voting complexities with some of the monitors.

“Why would foreign election observers want to go to Bush-Cheney headquarters in Orlando?” said Republican Party spokesman Joseph Agostini from Tallahassee. “If Kerry-Edwards want to welcome them with tea and cookies, well, that’s terrific. But if they’re here to observe polling, this has nothing to do with polling.”

Mr. Agostini stressed that any “registered” observer was free to watch the voting, “but to us, international monitors are a peripheral issue.”

After several telephone calls, the OSCE monitors were permitted to visit a second Republican office yesterday afternoon.

The Democrats and their constituents, by contrast, have welcomed the international monitors largely with the assistance of the OSCE’s local hosts.

The four-member observer team spent about an hour at Mr. Kerry’s Orange County campaign headquarters on Sunday evening, watching volunteers call registered voters and leafing through literature. Earlier that day, they had lunch at a local branch of the Cheesecake Factory with an aide to Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown, who had lobbied local officials to allow the group to access polling areas.

This is the first time that the 55-nation OSCE has sent a significant mission to observe U.S. elections for fairness. Nearly 60 foreign legislators have been dispatched to Ohio, New Mexico, Virginia and Minnesota as well as Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in Florida to watch the proceedings.

The OSCE monitors in each city largely set their own schedules, but must rely on local volunteers to chose polling places, meet local officials and handle logistics.

Political analyst and former Democratic state senator Richard Batchelor, who has connections with OSCE Parliamentary Assembly staffers, is handling the OSCE mission in Orlando, along with two assistants who also are active in party politics.

“I don’t think any effort has been made to steer them to one side or the other,” Mr. Batchelor said yesterday.

The observers’ missing the Bush rally while making Mr. Kerry’s was merely “happenstance,” he said.

Nonetheless, liberal causes clearly have been more welcoming to the international group.

Local Kerry campaign organizers happily waved them to the front of a crowd of area volunteers, when the presidential candidate briefly addressed an airport rally yesterday morning.

While shaking hands with supporters yesterday, he paused to speak with Finnish senator Kimmo Kiljunen, who pressed the case for better-regulated U.S. elections.

“Mr. Kerry, I am an international elections observer from Finland; I have a proposal for you,” Mr. Kiljunen shouted above the cheering and tumult and added that Mr. Kerry should work for uniform election rules for the entire country at the federal level.

Mr. Kerry leaned in, nodding, and responded, “Yes, that’s a good idea. I will do it.”

Kerry campaign officials did not respond to calls for comment on the statement.

The Finn, a veteran of more than two dozen OSCE observing missions, said he felt satisfied that the Democrat had given him more than an empty campaign promise.

However, the observers seem acutely aware that their presence is being exploited by those who see them as a way to publicize and legitimize shortcomings in the system.

“I stress that we are neutral; we have no opinions on the candidates,” Mr. Kiljunen told a local TV reporter, as campaign volunteers waved “Unidos con Kerry-Edwards” (“Joined with Kerry-Edwards”) signs behind him.

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