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U.S.: OSCE To Send Observers For First Time To Monitor Florida Elections

The United States has taken the unusual step of inviting the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor an election in one of its states. The OSCE usually concentrates on elections in postcommunist countries. A spokesman says the request came from the U.S. government. The team will monitor the 5 November congressional elections in the state of Florida, where problems in 2000 delayed the election of President George W. Bush for five weeks.

Munich, 22 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Florida poll will be monitored by a team of experts from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which normally watches elections in the former Soviet Union and other postcommunist countries to assess whether they meet OSCE standards for democracy.

OSCE monitors have frequently criticized elections for failing to meet democratic standards on such matters as the registration of voters or by imposing restrictions on the rights of political parties and voters.

It is the first time the OSCE has monitored an election in the United States. An OSCE spokesman, Jens-Hagen Eschenbacher, told RFE/RL that the monitoring mission was requested by the U.S. government. He says it will focus on whether U.S. authorities have rectified problems with vote-counting in Florida, which caused a delay in the election of President George W. Bush in 2000. There were also irregularities in a gubernatorial primary election in Florida last month.

Eschenbacher told RFE/RL: "We will send an assessment team of seven election experts to the U.S. They will go to Washington and Florida, and they will conduct an assessment of the elections in Florida with a focus on evaluation of the actions the authorities have undertaken to remedy the problems that were observed during the 2000 elections."

Questions have been raised about the efficiency of the voting machines in Florida, a lack of knowledge by poll workers, and the validity of absentee and military votes.

Eschenbacher emphasized that although the OSCE has previously focused on elections in Russia, Central Asia, the Balkans, and the Baltics, there is nothing unusual about the group monitoring polls in the West: "It is not the first time. We also assessed the elections -- the presidential elections -- in France, and we are about to send an assessment team to Turkey, as well."

Eschenbacher said the OSCE mission is independent of another monitoring mission requested by Miami-Dade County, Florida, which was at the center of the 2000 election controversy. The county has agreed to pay the Washington-based Center for Democracy to deploy a team of observers.

"The OSCE was invited by the U.S. government in accordance with an agreement signed by all members of the OSCE in Copenhagen in 1990," Eschenbacher said. "It is quite separate from the moves by the authorities in Florida."

The 1990 Copenhagen document establishes the basic conditions for free and fair elections. It says that members of the OSCE "consider that the presence of observers -- both foreign and domestic -- can enhance the electoral process." The document recommends that observers be invited from other OSCE states and appropriate institutions to monitor elections.

The OSCE spokesman said its seven-man team will include representatives of several countries and will be led by Gerard Stoudmann, the Swiss diplomat who is the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. It will be his final task before retirement.

The OSCE mission will go first to Washington to consult with federal election authorities, nongovernmental organizations, and the media. It will travel to Florida three days before the elections.

Eschenbacher said the OSCE mission will continue its usual practice of publishing a preliminary report a day or two after the election and present a fuller assessment a little later.