Monday, September 20, 2004

Election watchdogs head to Ohio

Inside Washington

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WASHINGTON - Worried that Ohio will be the Florida of 2004 in every way, an electoral watchdog group is sending international election monitors to the state this week - and possibly on Election Day.

Global Exchange, which describes itself as "progressive," called the effort - usually reserved for nations where democracy is new or rickety - as unprecedented.

The worry this year is that minority or poor voters might be blocked from voting, that the voting machines might not be secure, and that money may be playing too big a role in the election, said Jason Mark, spokesman for Global Exchange's Fair Election International project.

"We're concerned that there's a lot of people that are not feeling confidence in the basic mechanism of our democracy, and that's a real problem," he said. "One of our core missions is to support democracy around the world, including our own country."

The 20-person team will split up and visit Ohio and four other states. Ohio was picked partly because it's such a battleground and partly because of worries over how the election will be conducted.

Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell said he doesn't mind the foreign visitors. His office hosts international delegations all the time. They're welcome to observe but not intervene in the U.S. election.

"People can observe and go back and write what they observe," he said. "But if they're talking about intervention, that would be unique and unacceptable."

They'll meet with a law professor working closely with the American Civil Liberties Union in its suit against Ohio's use of punch-card ballots; a coalition of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, AFL-CIO, and People for the American Way leaders worried about election fraud; blacks in Akron worried about being disenfranchised; and an advocate of voting rights for felons.

The group will release a report in October about "what is going well and what is not going so well," said Dennis Kadima, executive director of South Africa's Electoral Institute of Southern Africa.

And if they decide they need to come back Nov. 2, Blackwell need not worry. They'll be observing but not interfering, Kadima said.

EXECUTIVE DONATION: Among local donors to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the independent group that aired the ads questioning Kerry's service in Vietnam and his anti-war efforts: Fifth Third Bank's chief executive, George Schaefer Jr.

A Vietnam vet himself - though not a swift boat vet - Schaefer gave $2,000 earlier this month. He already had given the maximum, $2,000, to Bush's re-election campaign. He did not return calls.

OOPS: Sen. Mike DeWine's exciting hearing on "Hospital Group Purchasing" was Sept. 14, not Sept. 7, as was reported in last week's column.

WASN'T BUSH A BASEBALL GUY? When the Bush campaign named former Bengals offensive lineman Anthony Munoz as campaign chairman in Southwest Ohio, it apparently signaled the start of a trend.

Last week in Green Bay, former Packers quarterback Bart Starr joined Vice President Dick Cheney. And then Tuesday, former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway joined Bush at a rally in Colorado.


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