Election Observers: Room for Improvement

Foreign observers who watched election preparations in the United States have concluded that there's plenty of room for improvement. Among the changes they recommend: public financing of elections.

"There are a number of existing problems that pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the 2004 general election in the United States," a 20-person delegation invited by the San Francisco human rights group Global Exchange (search) said in a report set for release Thursday.

"The delegation heard from many citizens whose faith in U.S. electoral processes remains shaken by the events of 2000."

The observers, who include election officials and former lawmakers from 15 countries, spent a week last month in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Missouri and Ohio. Florida was picked because of the disputed 2000 election, 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.

The observers found what they viewed as problems, including touchscreen machines that don't print paper records of a vote and elections run by partisan officials.

Among their recommendations:

— Secretaries of state and other election administrators should be nonpartisan;

— Touchscreen voting machines should produce paper records;

— Convicted felons who have served their time should automatically have their voting rights restored, which does not happen in seven states;

— Public financing of elections should be adopted.

As a short-term improvement for Nov. 2, the observers recommended more nonpartisan observers at all levels, arguing such scrutiny would increase voter confidence.

A second team of Global Exchange observers will return to Florida, Missouri and Ohio for Election Day, one of two foreign observing teams that will be watching the election. The second group is from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and was invited by the Bush administration.