WASHINGTON – A team of international observers will travel to five states beginning Friday to monitor preparations for the Nov. 2 presidential election.
The observers, organized by the San Francisco human rights group Global Exchange (search), will meet with voters, voting-rights groups and local officials to discuss voter disenfranchisement, the security of electronic voting machines and the influence of money in politics.
Four years after the Florida recount exposed major weaknesses in U.S. election systems, they hope international pressure will help boost voter confidence and head off potential problems.
"The presence of an international group really gives confidence to voters," observer Brigalia Bam, chairwoman of South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission, told a press conference Thursday. She said the observers will seek to ensure "the elections that are run are responsive, they are transparent and they are fair."
The 20-member group includes lawyers, former elected officials, election experts and activists from everywhere from Argentina to Australia.
They will split up and travel next week to Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Missouri and Georgia. Florida was picked because of 2000, Ohio because it is so hotly contested, Arizona because elections there are publicly financed, Missouri because of voter disenfranchisement in St. Louis in 2000, and Georgia because it is a rare state where voters use only touchscreen voting machines.
They will spend the week meeting with voters and officials and observing forums, registration drives and other events. They will report on what they've seen, and a smaller group will return for Election Day.
Global Exchange officials believe it's the first large-scale effort by a nongovernment group to monitor U.S. election processes. The Bush administration has also invited a team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to send observers.
The Global Exchange observers said that even before Florida, election monitoring in developed countries was becoming more common.
"In all places there is a need for sharing opinions and there is always room to improve," said observer Horacio Boneo of Argentina, who's observed elections in more than 60 countries.