International observers to oversee polls

As Americans cast their ballots for what could be the most divided race in recent political history, Minnesota officials, as well as international observers in other battleground states, are working to ensure every vote counts.

Fair Election International, a group of election observers assembled by the San Francisco-based human rights organization Global Exchange, recently released a critical 48-page report detailing its concerns with the upcoming election.

It has also made plans to remain in the United States and observe today’s election process.

Numerous counties in Florida, Missouri and Ohio have granted Fair Election International access to observe polling stations and tabulation centers, four years after the 2000 presidential elections remained in limbo for 36 days.

But while some welcome the monitoring, other Americans object to outside observers.

Barbara Cockrell, assistant secretary for elections and training at the Virginia State Board of Elections, said she has fielded numerous calls from concerned citizens.

“Some Americans are afraid that there are people coming from other countries to interfere with our election,” Cockrell said. “They see this as an insult to our country’s sovereignty.”

Report critical of partisan officials

The Global Exchange report condemns the practice of party-appointed officials, saying they “diminish voter confidence.”

Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer said she believes partisan officials help keep the process honest.

“What could be better than partisan election judges working side by side, serving together for the public good?” Kiffmeyer said. “It is the one place they get to work together, ensuring that there is a fair election. When I was an election judge, I was glad others were there.”

Jason Mark, Fair Election International spokesman, said inviting observers should be viewed not as a challenge to the United States’ sovereignty, but “as an effort to determine that we are using best practices.”

The group’s report advocates “a series of reforms that should be made at the federal, state and county levels to guarantee fair elections in the U.S.”

It calls for nonpartisan electoral administration, greater poll observation and paper trails for touch-screen voting.

Observers at polling stations are common in some states, helping to ensure the process is properly exercised. It is unlikely, however, that an international team would be able to intervene.

“Problems usually arise on Election Day,” said Kiffmeyer, who said the most common issue is absent election judges. “If a judge does not show up at the polling station, every county in the state has trained poll workers on hand.”

Kiffmeyer said Minnesota voters can expect a smooth Election Day, but residents should come prepared.

“There are two responsibilities: One is the system, the other is the voters,” Kiffmeyer said.

“Voters have a responsibility to read the ballot, to take the time necessary to vote and to have patience with other voters and poll workers,” she said. “We can have a really positive Election Day.”

Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes feedback at [email protected]