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Last Updated: Friday, 5 November, 2004, 22:54 GMT
US vote 'mostly free and fair'
Voters queue at a polling station in Ohio, 2 November 2004
Observers said queues at polling stations were too long
The US elections "mostly met" standards for freedom and fairness, international observers have said.

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the presidential and congressional elections reflected a "long democratic tradition".

They praised the "professionalism and dedication" of state and local officials.

The observers had received widespread allegations of fraud and voter suppression ahead of the elections but they were unable to substantiate the claims.

However, they said the queues at polls were too long.

"Significant delays at the polling station are likely to deter some voters and may restrict the right to vote," the OSCE said in a preliminary report.

It also warned that electoral reforms passed in response to the problems of the 2000 elections needed to be reviewed.

In 2002, the US Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

The act called for modernisation of voting equipment, state-wide voter databases to ensure the accuracy of the electoral rolls, and provisional ballots to allow citizens who believed they were eligible to vote a chance to vote.

"HAVA addressed problems identified during the 2000 elections. However, it was also a political compromise, which left a number of questions to be addressed in its implementation," the OSCE observers reported.

Their greatest concern was with confusion and lack of clear guidelines with respect to provisional ballots.

'Orderly and peaceful'

The OSCE sent 92 observers to monitor the electoral process across the United States.

Polling station in Ohio, 2 November 2004
The observers found no evidence of fraud or voter suppression
However, they were barred by state law from polling places in Washington DC, Florida and Ohio.

New Mexico also has laws limiting access to polling place by non-voters, but the state sent an escort with the OSCE delegation.

"Election day proceeded in an orderly and peaceful manner," the OSCE observers reported.

"[The elections] were conducted in an environment that reflects a long democratic tradition, including institutions governed by rule of law, free and professional media and civil society involved in all aspects of the election process."

The observers recommended that state election laws be harmonised to allow for greater transparency and universal access to both international and domestic non-partisan observers.

Monitors did find problems but not they were not widespread enough to call the result into question.

Before the elections, the observers had received several claims of fraud and voter suppression, especially among minorities.

The OSCE monitors said they were "concerned that the widespread nature of these allegations may undermine confidence in the electoral process."

However, monitors said they were not "provided with first-hand evidence to substantiate them or to demonstrate that such practices were widespread or systematic".

There had been fears widespread challenges over voter eligibility and to protracted litigation after the vote, but observers said these fears were not realised.

Some anger with observers

The US state department invited the OSCE to monitor the elections as part of agreements among the 55 OSCE member states, which include the US.

Some conservative groups had objected to the role of the monitors.

They said that because Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings was president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly that the monitoring would be partisan and biased.

"All states - Florida in particular - are in danger of having their electoral proceedings corrupted by Hastings and OSCE," said Tom DeWeese, president of the conservative American Policy Centre ahead of the elections.

An OSCE spokeswoman said the role of the election monitors was "to observe, not interfere".

It was the first time that OSCE had sent a full delegation to monitor US elections in light of the controversy over the 2000 US election.

The organisation had sent a limited delegation to monitor the 2002 midterm elections in Florida.



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