WASHINGTON – When 13 Democratic members of the U.S. Congress asked United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send election monitors to the U.S. this fall, the move outraged many Republicans and other proponents of national sovereignty.
When those same 13 Democratic members of Congress were turned down by Annan, they took their request to Secretary of State Colin Powell – again to the shock of many Republicans and those who warn about foreign entanglements.
Yesterday, those 13 Democratic House members got their surprising answer from the State Department – the administration will indeed invite foreign election monitors to observe the U.S. elections in November.
Assistant Secretary of State Paul V. Kelly, who handles legislative affairs for the department, affirmed the invitation this week in a letter to the 13 House members. They had requested U.N. monitors for this year’s elections in an effort to avoid the charges of voting irregularities that plagued the 2000 election, the closest in history.
Now, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the largest regional organization in the world with 55 participating nations, will monitor the U.S. election on Nov. 2. Members include Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain and the United States.
“OSCE members, including the United States, agreed in 1990 in Copenhagen to allow fellow members to observe elections in one another’s countries,” Kelly wrote. “Consistent with this commitment, the United States has already invited the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to observe the November 2, 2004, presidential elections.”
The congressional initiative was spearheaded by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas. She asked Powell to make an official request that the U.N. provide observers for the Nov. 2 elections in the United States to “ensure free and fair elections.”
Previously, the 13 Democratic congressmen, led by Johnson, sent a letter July 8 to the U.N. general secretary requesting the presence of U.N. representatives in every county of the country during the voting process and any vote recount afterwards.
The U.N. immediately responded that such a request could not be accepted unless it came from the U.S. government. Otherwise, a spokesman said, it could be considered”intervention in a country’s sovereignty.”
“As legislators, we should guarantee the American people that our country will not experience another nightmare like the 2000 presidential elections,” the members of Congress said in their letter to Annan.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
In her letter to Powell, Johnson expressed grave concerns regarding electoral system reforms that were not undertaken after the 2000 election.
Recalling the contentious Florida vote count in 2000, the lawmakers urged the U.N. to “ensure free and fair elections in America.”
“As lawmakers, we must assure the people of America that our nation will not experience the nightmare of the 2000 presidential election,” Johnson said in the letter. “This is the first step in making sure that history does not repeat itself.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat, announced that the Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has confirmed that it will be present in the United States – specifically, in Florida – on Election Day.
However, state election authorities in Florida have already announced that such observers are not to be allowed access to the voting process and, in any case, they would have to remain at a distance of more than 50 feet from the polls.
Besides Johnson, the congressional signers to the original U.N. letters included Julia Carson of Indiana, Jerrold Nadler, Edolphus Towns, Joseph Crowley and Carolyn B. Maloney, all of New York, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Corrine Brown of Florida, Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, Danny K. Davis of Illinois, and Michael M. Honda and Barbara Lee of California.