International Observers to Monitor U.S. Vote

Election monitors that normally would be expected to observe elections in fledgling democracies like Azerbaijan and Moldova are scheduled to watch the vote in a more established democratic nation — the United States.

Responding to a request from 13 Democratic congressmen and the State Department, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (search) will be sending a group to make sure the United States holds a fair election in November.

Lawmakers who requested the OSCE presence said problems in the 2000 election spurred them to ask the international organization to participate. They say that the monitors will help ensure that the United States should have nothing to hide, but the observers will be there to make sure the election does not suffer any civil rights violations or other irregularities.

Rep. Barbara Lee (search) "felt that given the sort of problems that occurred in the 2000 election that it would be important that there be election monitors on hand for this election," said Stuart Chapman, a spokesman for the California Democrat.

But critics say that inviting an international organization is not only insulting to the world's strongest democracy, but it also puts U.S. sovereignty at risk.

"A lot of Americans are naturally going to be insulted by the idea that there is something wrong with our democratic process and that we need these bureaucrats from abroad," said Jeff Deist, spokesman for Rep. Ron Paul (search), R-Texas.

On June 30, Lee and her colleagues requested that the United Nations send monitors, but the international body rejected the request because the letter was not signed by an administration official. In early July, the group wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell requesting monitors to guarantee fair elections. The State Department then sent a request for election monitors to the OSCE. On July 30, the State Department confirmed that OSCE observers would monitor the Nov. 2 election.

A source familiar with the Vienna-based OSCE said that its budget for monitoring elections expanded after 2000 so that it could send observers not only to emerging democracies, but also to mature ones. The OSCE recently has sent observers to monitor French, Spanish and British elections. According to the OSCE, which has 55 member nations from Europe, Central Asia and North America, 10,000 observers have been sent to more than 150 elections in the past 10 years.

Among those elections are the 2002 U.S. congressional vote and the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election. OSCE representatives did not return calls for comment, but spokesmen have indicated in reports that the team would be significantly larger than the one that watched the 2002 election, and it would be observing, not overseeing, the elections.

In 1990, the United States signed an agreement with other members that the OSCE would have a standing invitation to observe any member's election. As a result, the OSCE did not need an invitation in order to send the monitors.

Paul, who once ran for president as a Libertarian candidate, believes that America never should have joined the organization, said his spokesman.

"The root problem in this is when we join these entangling organizations, these kinds of things come back to bite us," Deist told

Having these observers in America for the election undermines the nation's sovereignty, Deist said.

"Whether they give the stamp of approval or not to monitor these elections ought not to be the concern. We are a sovereign country. We conduct our own elections," Deist said. "Implicit in [sending observers] is you are a nation that is backwards or incapable. We, as the international babysitter, need to come in and make sure that" you are doing things properly. "That's not going to fly very well with the American people."

Thomas Kilgannon, president of the Freedom Alliance (search), an organization that states one of its goals as defending American sovereignty, agreed with Deist's analysis.

"The United States does democracy better than anyone in the world, and we don't need anyone outside our country judging our elections and telling us what's right," Kilgannon said.

Kilgannon said he worried that inviting the observers would set a bad precedent, allowing international organizations to have a role in judging America's elections rather than leaving that responsibility up to American officials. Supervising elections has traditionally been a state responsibility.

If a problem does occur, some may look to international institutions to solve it, rather than relying on domestic safeguards already in place, he said.

"What they are saying is they have more faith and trust in international observers and institutions than they trust their fellow Americans. It is a sad commentary on their beliefs as members of the House of Representatives," Kilgannon said.

Arguing against critics who say America is surrendering some of its sovereignty, Chapman responded, "The United States sends election monitors around the world to participate in the observance of elections. Why wouldn't we allow them to come in here if our democracy is so strong and transparent? We want to make sure our elections are equally transparent.

"Hopefully, [the monitors] will be a confirmation of our principle of one-person-one-vote," he said.

The announcement regarding OSCE observers came shortly after Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Fla., was censured by the House of Representatives for calling the 2000 election in Florida a "United States coup d'etat." In that race, Bush won Florida by 537 votes and a 35-day recount feud that ended up in the United States Supreme Court. The state's 25 electoral votes sealed his presidential victory.

To insure a fairer election, Brown called for "verification from the world." The letter to the OSCE was signed by Brown, Lee, and Reps. Julia Carson of Indiana; William Lacy Clay of Missouri; Elijah Cummings of Maryland; Danny Davis of Illinois; Raul Grijalva of Arizona; Michael Honda of California; Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas; and Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Edolphus Towns and Joseph Crowley, all of New York.