Thursday, October 14, 2004

NEW YORK — The European body charged with ensuring fair and transparent elections in member countries has selected 60 monitors from 25 countries to observe the U.S. elections next month, concentrating on closely contested states.

The observers represent a broad range of political philosophies, from the far left to the far right. The group includes communists from France and Russia, a Turkish women’s rights advocate and a counterterrorism expert from Belgium.

Dispatched by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the group will visit a half-dozen states starting Oct. 30 to observe the final days of campaigning, voter registration and the vote-counting.

The observers, mostly sitting and former parliamentarians from across Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union, are to be deployed to polling places in Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina and Ohio, as well as the D.C. region.

“As you may know, the election system in the [United States] is decentralized and, therefore, in order to get a balanced picture of the elections, we need to deploy to as many states as we can within limits of resources and logistical capabilities,” delegation chief Barbara Haering, a member of the Swiss parliament, wrote in a letter to the observers.

“I realize there is a lot of interest among members to observe elections in Florida, but please bear in mind that we need a balanced picture and that we cannot all go to the same state,” she wrote in an Oct. 12 letter provided to The Washington Times.

Ms. Haering, the vice president of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly, has made at least two trips to the United States to prepare for the four-day monitoring mission, and even traveled to St. Louis to watch the first presidential debate on Sept. 30.

This is not the first time the OSCE has monitored U.S. elections. Small missions were dispatched in 1998, 2000 and 2002 and to the California gubernatorial recall election last year. In 2000 and 2002, observers mostly focused on how various voting methods performed.

Those visits attracted little attention, but this year, in light of problems with voting machines in many states and lingering concerns about the Florida results in 2000, the presence of foreign election monitors has troubled some politicians. Some, such as Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, see their presence as undermining U.S. sovereignty.

The State Department reluctantly extended an invitation to the OSCE this summer, after a dozen Democratic members of Congress requested observers from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The United Nations rebuffed that request on a technicality, but the State Department, which has sent hundreds of Americans to monitor foreign elections in other countries, did tender an invitation to the OSCE.

The observers will travel at the expense of their own governments. The administrative costs of the mission are covered by the OSCE general fund, which assesses Washington 9 percent of its budget.

A preliminary assessment of their findings will be made public a day or two after the elections, with a formal report to follow in about a month.

During a September visit, the OSCE raised concerns that presidential-election results could be delayed again by “vulnerabilities” in the system, such as variations in voting methods between and within states. The advance party also expressed concerns of voter intimidation and that legitimate voters may have been stricken from voting lists along with felons.

Members of the delegation include:

• Leonid Ivanchenko, a former member of the Russian Communist Party, who was expelled from the Russian Duma in September, along with two colleagues, for founding a rival communist political party.

• Jean-Claude Lefort, a member of the French National Assembly and an official of France’s Communist Party, who has traveled to Cuba and fought to win legal recognition for French veterans of the Spanish Civil War.

• Belgian senator Hugo Coveliers, an expert in criminology, organized crime and terrorism, who in 2002 tried to resist draft legislation outlawing arms sales to nations such as the United States that do not join the International Criminal Court.

• Swedish member of parliament Carina Hagg, who was sued in 2000 by the Church of Scientology for trying to donate internal church documents to a public library.

• Norwegian parliament member Kjell Engebretsen, who was visiting the southern Sudanese town Yei just before Christmas 1999 when government forces bombed a Norwegian hospital there. No one in the delegation was injured, although three Sudanese were killed.

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