Swiss observer says US elections free and fair

Haering says there is still room for improvement Keystone

The Swiss head of the international mission, which monitored the United States presidential election, says the process was for the most part free and fair.

This content was published on November 4, 2004 - 20:41

In an interview with swissinfo, Barbara Haering said the mission did, however, uncover a few irregularities.

Haering led a team of more than 90 observers from 34 states under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The team presented their preliminary findings in Washington on Thursday.

Haering is a Social Democratic member of the Swiss House of Representatives, and vice-president of the parliamentary assembly of the OSCE.

swissinfo: Did the elections proceed in a correct manner, or were there problems similar to those of 2000?

Barbara Haering: These elections met most of the requirements demanded by the OSCE. There were problems and irregularities but not many. However, we are critical of the new law [Help America Vote Act] introduced in 2002 . It leaves a lot of room for interpretation and that has to change.

International observers must also be assured free access to all polling stations in all states.

swissinfo: Was that not the case?

B.H.: The problem was that we were invited by the federal government in Washington, which has a law permitting observer missions. But there is no such law at the state level.

Our observers were not allowed into a few polling stations, but we did have sufficient access to all the information we required to do our work.

swissinfo: Your mission has now ended. What did it accomplish?

B.H.: The US is in the middle of a long-term, exhaustive process to reform its electoral system. It was the first time that a national law was dictated to the state governments. The wording of the law introduced two years ago must become more precise, and I’m sure our recommendations will be considered.

swissinfo: What impressed you most about the elections?

B.H.: The commitment and passion of the campaigners who went door to door soliciting votes right up to the last minute. We can really learn from them in Switzerland.

It also gave me much more insight into the election process than I would have had watching from Switzerland. We usually follow the elections on CNN.

I was also impressed by the calm after the storm. On voting day, the electorate showed a lot of dedication and patience going to the polls and having to wait. Everyone was aware how important the election was for the country and that it was being monitored by the international community.

swissinfo: You’ve taken part in similar missions in eastern Europe. What are the differences?

B.H.: There is a huge difference in regard to the logistics. The problem isn’t access to information, but the amount of information you have to deal with. The main challenge in many eastern European countries is access to information.

I would also like to say that from an emotional point of view, it has been very impressive to observe people in crucial election situations. You realise that people are aware that their votes count.

swissinfo, Jean-Michel Berthoud (translation: Dale Bechtel)

Key facts

92 observers from 34 countries took part as international observers.
The OSCE delegation was headed by Swiss parliamentarian Barbara Haering.
The mission focused mainly on election reforms, particularly the implementation of the “Help America Vote Act” of 2002.

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