By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – International poll watchers now in Missouri can monitor the state’s general election as long as they don’t interfere with the process.
Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have been deployed to states around the country to ensure fair practices in the election. Representatives from OSCE also visited during presidential elections in 2004 and 2008, and the 2010 mid-term elections.
Teams of two started traveling to locations across the United States in October, including a recent trip to Oregon to question elections officials about the vote-by-mail system.
A schedule recently posted online shows that Sandra Gale of the United Kingdom and Baurzhan Yermegiyayev of Kazakhstan plan to visit Jefferson City and Oklahoma City this election cycle.
Poland-based spokesman Thomas Rymer told Missouri Watchdog in an email response Thursday that the team is now working in Missouri and will be here until after the election Tuesday.
“They are based out of Jefferson City, but they have been working throughout the state, meeting with a wide array of stakeholders in the election process there, including state government representatives, political parties and individual candidates,” he wrote.
Rymer said their work is part of the overall assessment of U.S. elections and their compliance with OSCE standards for democratic elections.
“The observers are following campaign activities, the work of the election administration and relevant federal and state institutions, implementation of the legislative framework, and the resolution of election disputes,” Rymer wrote.
An OSCE webpage with information about the observation process says the group is committed to impartiality in its duties, and will not interfere in the election process “in any way.”
“They are not election police or referees. They will not play any role in counting votes or resolving election disputes. Their only role is to observe the process and to report on the degree to which that process meets the commitments that the United States has agreed to uphold.”
Stacie Temple, communications director for the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, said the OSCE representatives met with Robin Carnahan’s staff last week to discuss their observation trip.
Temple said the SOS office notified local election officials that they may be contacted by OSCE to observe the elections process in their jurisdictions.
“By observing our election process in action, we hope these international visitors will learn best practices that can be used to help strengthen democracy in their own countries,” Temple said.
She said such observers are welcome as long as they don’t get in the way.
“Certainly, any such observer would not be qualified or allowed to challenge any voter’s qualifications or interfere in any way in the voting process.”
The Missouri statute that permits poll watchers does not clearly outline the process for becoming one, Temple said.
“Nor does it outline specific directives for such an observer,” she said. “However, any such observer would need to check in with a local election authority to coordinate any observation of the elections process either at the central location or at a polling place.”
An interim report released by OSCE last week reports no major cases of malfeasance, but noted how voter identification and registration has become a highly polarizing issue in the United States this year.
U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan announced earlier this week that assistant U.S. attorney John Bodenhausen will oversee election-related complaints in the St. Louis area Tuesday as part of the Justice Department’s Election Day program.
The FBI will make available agents in each field office to investigate any fraud allegation during the election, the Associated Press reported.