Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Foreign monitors 'barred' from US polls

November 03 2004 at 12:54AM

Copenhagen - Some observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a Europe-wide security and rights forum, were barred from entering some polling stations in the United States on Tuesday, one of them said.

"We were not allowed to enter polling stations," said Soeren Soendergaard, a Danish parliamentary deputy.

"Although we were officially invited to follow the (US presidential) election, the message was not passed on to the polling stations," he told the Danish news agency Ritzau.

He said he had been personally refused admission at three out of four polling stations in Columbus, Ohio.

"It's the limit of arrogance," complained the left-wing deputy, representing the 55-nation OSCE, a pan-European body of which the US is a member and whose duties include monitoring elections to ensure fair play.

Another Danish OSCE observer, conservative Carina Christensen, reported less serious irregularities in Jacksonville, Florida, but said police had been called when she tried to visit a Republican office.

She and three other delegation members had been well received by local representatives of the Democrat Party who had ensured their access to polling stations.

But Republicans were less welcoming. "We were denied entry to a local Republican office in Orlando," she told Ritzau: "They called the police, saying they had received guidelines from Washington to do so."

Socialist deputy Kamel Qureshi said Americans appeared basically annoyed at the presence of foreign observers.

The OSCE team was invited by the State Department. They were not conducting full-scale monitoring but collecting impressions of American democratic practice for a later report.

The State Department on Monday downplayed their presence.

"The presence of OSCE election observers we don't find troubling at all," said State Department spokesman Adam Ereli. "This is something that all OSCE members routinely do, so this is no exception."

Although US officials have always issued invitations and had foreign observers before, it is "new in the sense that this is the first time they've been at a presidential election, and they've deployed or they've been here in these numbers," Ereli said.

Their visit has raised the anger of conservative US commentators and politicians, angry that the US electoral process would be scrutinised like an election in Ukraine or Azerbaijan.

The OSCE mission had made it known that they would look particularly at electronic voting machines in states such as Florida.

The machines have been criticised as being unreliable and vulnerable to hacking.

The OSCE said in September it believed the weaknesss in US elections apparent in 2000 would not be fully corrected in time for Tuesday's vote.

The OSCE is heavily involved throughout the Balkans, where the former Yugoslav republics are trying to overcome the damage wrought by the wars of the 1990s and prepare themselves for membership of Nato and the European Union.

Source: IOL

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