Alleging disenfranchisement of voters, problematic purging of voter lists, and flawed vote counting procedures, 13 members of the House of Representatives have made a formal request to the United Nations that international monitors be dispatched to oversee the U.S. elections.
“We are deeply concerned that the rights of the U.S. citizen to vote in free and fair elections are again in jeopardy,” read the letter drafted in July by Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat from Texas and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The UN denied the request, stating that any such request must come from the executive branch, according to a spokespersion for Johnson. Johnson sent a request to Secretary of State Colin Powell that he invite UN monitors, and she has requested a meeting about the election with the Justice Department.
In response to Johnson's continued efforts, the Republican-led House voted to attach an amendment to the 2005 foreign aid bill blocking any UN involvement in U.S. elections.
In the ensuing debate on the House floor, Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida), a co-signer of the letter to the UN, lashed out at Representative Steve Buyer of Indiana, the Republican author of the amendment, referring to the 2000 election as a “coup d'etat.”
Ruled out of order in a party-line vote, Brown was formally reprimanded by the House and barred from speaking on the floor for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile, Representative Robert Wexler is filing a federal lawsuit over the lack of paper records in electronic voting machines, and Representative Kendrick Meek is assembling his own team of election monitors that will be available to respond to any complaints received from voters on election day.
In his remarks to the NAACP Convention in mid-July, presidential candidate Senator John Kerry said his campaign is prepared to provide legal teams and election monitors around the country “to enforce the law.”
Kerry's efforts will also focus on precincts in Florida that were particularly fraught with election irregularities in 2000. Kerry said his legal team will seek court injunctions to make certain that all who want to vote can get to the polls and that every vote is counted, according to the Associated Press.
On July 11, faced with lawsuits and protests from civil rights groups, Florida election officials announced the state was scrapping its list of purported felons. Officials had discovered that the list omitted nearly all Hispanics, shielding this group from being purged from voting rolls. Many Hispanics in Florida are Cuban-American, who overwhelmingly vote Republican, whereas black Floridians, who are disproportionately represented on the purge lists, overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
Also in July, more than 15 national groups, including MoveOn, Howard Dean's Democracy for America, People for the American Way, and Verified Voting, announced formation of the National Ballot Integrity Project to coordinate public oversight in the elections. The project website posts links to over 30 voting watchdog groups and gives updates on the latest news on voting integrity, including state-by-state information.
In May, a coalition of groups unveiled Election Protection 2004 to inform voters of their rights and work with local election officials to address problems. On election day, the program will provide poll monitors to watch for instances of voter intimidation or suppression, as well as toll-free voter hotlines (866/OUR-VOTE) to provide voters with instant access to free legal advice from volunteer lawyers and law students trained in election law.
For more information on voting issues, go to www.ballotintegrity.org. For information on how to participate in poll monitoring, go to Election Protection, www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=12711. Janis Siegel is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle.