By Wendy Underhill
On November 6, polling places may be crowded with all kinds of people. The voters, of course, are at the heart of the operation. Then there are the election workers, mostly temporary employees hired to check voters in, distribute ballots and assist voters as needed. Technicians come in and out during the day, seeing to the health of the voting equipment. Poll watchers may be on hand, watching the action to ensure that proper policies are followed. The qualifications for partisan watchers (aka poll challengers), and what they may or may not do is spelled out in state law.
And, in a tiny portion of polling places, international election observers will be on hand. Fifty teams of two observers, hailing from Europe and Central Asia, will fan out to states willing to have them. These folks are all parliamentarians or electoral experts in their own right. They come under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a 56-country international organization and the leading voice on election observation in the Northern Hemisphere.
"We are not coming to judge a result but to report about the process," says Joao Soares (MP, Portugal) who has been appointed to lead the observation mission. "The United States, and all of our 56 countries, agreed in 1990 to allow one another to observe their elections, and we look forward to seeing how the U.S. election system upholds that and other commitments to fair elections."
Will you be lucky enough to spot a rare international observer? Because they are so few and our nation is so huge, it is unlikely. There's another reason, too: only a select few states explicitly make mention of international election observers in statute: Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota, plus the District of Columbia. Other states may permit international observers on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis.
For more information on election observer teams—both to the U. S. and to many, many other countries—see NCSL's 7-minute video with Neil Simon, communications director for the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly.
Related post: "International Observers not Welcome Everywhere"