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Swiss keep a watchful eye on Florida ballot

Florida's antiquated voting methods lead to a manual recount in the last presidential election

(Keystone)

Americans go to the polls on November 5 in the mid-term elections. This time, Swiss and international observers will be monitoring the voting process.

Led by the Swiss Gérard Stroudmann, the group also includes Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross.

"I have participated in at least 20 identical missions, but I think I might be the only person who has observed [elections] in both Russia and the United States," Gross told swissinfo.

As one the observers of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) - part of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - Gross will be keeping a close eye on the Florida vote.

The state decided the outcome of the last presidential election - amid huge controversy over the voting process.

Infamous Chads

In that election, voters had to punch a hole in their ballot cards - known locally as "Chads" - next to their candidate of choice. But thousands of votes were rejected by automatic machines because the holes had not been made properly.

Those famous - or rather infamous -"Chads" made the news all over the world and the Florida system and its antiquated voting machines came under intense scrutiny.

Also in the spotlight was Jeb Bush, governor of Florida and brother of presidential candidate George W Bush.

Disputed results

The results of the ballot were contested for weeks before finally being settled in the American Supreme Court, which ruled that Bush had narrowly beaten Al Gore.

To avoid a repeat of the debacle, it was decided to send election monitors to Florida for the mid-term elections.

The 20 strong group of Europeans is lead by the Swiss, Gérard Stoudmann, the director of the ODIHR.

Tight race

The mid-term race in Florida is likely to be almost as close as the presidential election.

Jeb Bush is pitted against Bill McBride, a seasoned Democratic candidate who in the primaries beat his rival, Janet Reno, a former attorney general during the Clinton administration, by just one per cent.

But even the primaries this year were coloured by disputes and controversy.

Once again there were accusations that the ballot was badly organised and that staff had not received adequate training.

As a result, the Florida authorities have decided to introduce a new voting system in two years' time.

Distorted

Andreas Gross is an old hand at election watching, and knows well how ballots can be distorted.

"It's a difference experience each time I observe a vote," he explained. "In April, I was in France and I was really impressed with how well the system worked.

"But in some countries of the former Soviet Union, for example, I discovered that there were people who were voting four times in a row, " Gross said. "In one polling station, I found 100 voting papers that have already been filled out an hour before opening."

Gross and his colleagues will be following every stage of the voting process, and hope to offer valuable advice to Florida officials.

"We monitor if people have been registered regularly or if the polling stations are open for a sufficient amount of time," he explained. "In general I go and observe voting in places far from urban centres. We don't just limit ourselves to observing but we also explain how it is done in other countries."

Even the world's oldest democracy could do with some new lessons.

swissinfo, Anna Luisa Ferro Mäder, Washington

In brief

Swiss and international observers are heading to Florida to monitor mid-term elections, following the huge controversy over the voting process in the last presidential election.

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