International monitors to observe US election for first time

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The Independent US

This November's presidential election will be observed by international monitors amid growing concerns that faulty machines and the manipulation of voter registration lists could lead to a repeat of the Florida fiasco of 2000.

For the first time, experts from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will observe the presidential election, after a formal invitation from the State Department. "We will come to observe, not to oversee the elections," an OSCE spokeswoman, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, said. The presence of OSCE teams is a victory for campaigners who have raised the possibility that civil rights violations - which they say happened in the 2000 election - could be repeated. In July, 13 Democrats in the House of Representatives wrote to the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, asking him to send observers.

After Mr Annan rejected their request, saying the Bush administration must make the application, the Democrats appealed to the Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

Paul Kelly, an assistant Secretary of State, told the Democrats: "OSCE members, including the United States, agreed in 1990 in Copenhagen to allow fellow members to observe elections in one another's countries."

The OSCE, based in Poland, has 55 members and has sent teams to observe more than 150 elections. Many of its missions are in fledgling democracies and countries where free and fair elections are new.

Campaigners in the US are desperate to avoid a repeat of 2000, when problems with voter rolls, ballot designs and recounts in Florida led to law suits. Ultimately, the Supreme Court in effect selected the nation's President.

The team from the OSCE will not be the only election observers. The activist group Global Exchange is organising independent international election monitors to travel to the US twice, first in September to study computer voting machines, voter registration, disenfranchisement, campaign finance and other issues, and again for the election itself.