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International monitors will watch election

By Nancy Cook Lauer



They've monitored voting in Haiti; now they're on their way to El Salvador. Their next stops? Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

For the first time, international monitors will be in the United States to make sure votes are cast and counted correctly. Members of the Catholic peace movement Pax Christi announced Monday that they will post monitors at polling places in four Florida during the Nov. 2 general election.

"We have assisted groups in other nations who fear that their voices will not be heard and that the powerful will manipulate the process to suit their own aspirations unless the eyes of the world are watching," said Dave Robinson, national coordinator of Pax Christi USA. "But as evident in the elections of 2000, particularly in the state of Florida, we in the United States have our own difficulties in assuring an election atmosphere that is transparent, open, honest and free of controversy."

Gov. Jeb Bush bristled at the comparison and said such monitors aren't needed.

"It sounds to me like they're playing politics," Bush said. "The election system in our state, run by the 67 supervisors of election, funded by a dramatic increase by the state and now hopefully federal money coming down, is not a Third World situation. To suggest otherwise is an effort, I think, that you'll see from here to election time by liberal groups and left-wing groups to try to undermine people's confidence."

Others getting involved

Partisan groups and candidates also are jumping into the fray. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry told a Palm Beach County group Monday that he would assemble a legal team to guard against any irregularities in Florida this fall, focusing on problematic precincts and seeking injunctions where necessary to guarantee voting rights.

U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, meanwhile, filed a federal lawsuit over the lack of a paper ballot connected to electronic voting machines.

Two Democratic lawmakers also have filed bills requiring paper receipts of electronic ballots. Rep. Anne Gannon, of Delray Beach, has filed HB 1037 and Senate Democratic Leader Ron Klein, of Boca Raton, has filed SB 2390. Neither bill has been scheduled for committee hearings, and prospects for passage this year look dim.

Improvements already made

Florida has spent about $35 million over the past three years replacing problematic voting equipment, educating voters and poll workers, and standardizing ballots, recount procedures and registration systems. The state has tried to eliminate the flaws exposed when President George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000 by the razor-thin margin of 537 votes after 36 days of controversy.

And to some degree, it has worked. The 2002 elections saw uncounted ballots decrease from 2.93 percent in 2000 to 0.86 percent.

But Robinson said the group decided to make sure everything runs smoothly as a way to ensure that voters will be confident that every vote will count. Pax Christi will do that by verifying that voters are notified of their proper voting places, making sure that bilingual instructions and voting assistance are available and ensuring that there are enough poll workers and volunteers to handle the crowds.

As long as the group stays 50 feet away from the polling places and doesn't interfere with or intimidate voters, it's allowed to monitor. If a candidate in any race puts Pax Christi on his or her list of poll watchers, then the monitors can come inside.

The group intends to file reports with the state Elections Office, Bush and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Theresa LePore, Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, was taking it philosophically.

"I'm sure there are going to be monitors here," LePore said. "Florida is just in the limelight and will continue to be in the limelight."

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