The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 30, 2012

Check in with local precincts, U.N. election observers are told

HARRISBURG — If European election observers head to Pennsylvania polls, that’s well and good, says the state. But it’s up to the polling places on whether or not they can be allowed in.

Election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will monitor polling places in the United States on Tuesday.

The group, a United Nations affiliate with a department devoted to ensuring fair election practices worldwide, has monitored U.S. elections in the past.

Though the group has not said outright where it will deploy its 57 observers, Pennsylvania’s high-profile voter ID law could draw their attention.

Ron Ruman, Department of State spokesman, said Pennsylvania welcomes any interested parties to watch elections, but made it clear that it’s up to local officials on what they’ll be allowed to see.

“The person at the precinct can do what they think is proper,” Ruman said.

There are more than 9,300 polling places statewide.

The judge of elections could permit observers to stand quietly and watch, but they also could decide to block allow anyone inside the polling place if they thought it would interfere with the process, he said.

Observers will not be able to talk to voters inside the polling place, Ruman said. Any questions have to be directed to officials. Communication with voters has to happen 10 feet away from the polling place – or, a little more than 3 meters, for folks more accustomed to the metric system. That’s the same rule that applies to media coverage and campaigners.

Ruman said there is no tolerance for interfering with the election process.

“If the local officials need to take action because of interference, Governor Corbett and (Department of State) Secretary Aichele will stand behind local officials 100 percent,” Ruman said.

Because of worsening weather conditions because of Hurricane Sandy on Monday, PA Independent was unable to contact local election officials around the state.

OSCE monitors elections worldwide for fair practices, including the U.S. presidential elections in 2004 and 2008, and the mid-term elections in 2010. It started this year’s U.S. mission in early October.

The move has Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott fuming, saying the organization’s members are not allowed, by law, inside Texas polling places.

Though Pennsylvania has not been named officially as a spot where the team will have observers on the ground, the action coincides with urging from civil-rights groups requesting third-party observation in states where they have concerns.

On Oct. 12, eight civil-rights groups including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters wrote to OSCE urging their impartial presence at elections in particular states where there are new election laws.

“Accordingly, we urge the OSCE to deploy its limited election monitors in those states where restrictions on voting have been most extensive – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Texas and Wisconsin,” the letter reads.

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