Did you know we have international election observers?

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Something that always amazes me is how readily people from other countries travel around the world, in the way that we travel from state to state, and how we largely don't. It isn't that we entirely hole up in the United States; it's more that when we travel overseas it's usually a pretty big deal, planned well ahead and talked about endlessly afterwards. What brought this to mind is a couple of people it was my good fortune to meet last week. Andrew McEntee and Kirsten Mogensen are representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a body formed in hope of preventing European travel from one country to another that involves battle tanks. They are here to observe the U.S. elections in behalf of OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. When we think of international election observers, probably the first thing that comes to mind is Jimmy Carter in a blindfold announcing that yes, the leftist tinpot dictor du jour was "legitimately elected." But McEntee and Mogensen are less noisy and, if what I saw is any indication, considerably more precise. "We are one of 22 OSCE teams invited by the U.S. government to observe here," Mogensen told me. They do not just fly in, look around, and fly out, either. They've been in West Virginia for the last month and will spend the time through election day in Ohio. "When we saw that the president was visiting Athens, we thought it was a good opportunity, so we drove up here," said McEntee. They have been at this for years, not just in the U.S. but in member countries of the OSCE – the European Union countries plus republics formed from what used to be the Soviet Union, and places where they've been invited to observe, such as Afghanistan. They work in two-person teams, neither person from the country being studied. Americans are part of the teams in some other countries. This year's U.S. election is the 23rd election that McEntee has examined. They are also precise and painstaking in their efforts to hear from all sides. For instance, here they interviewed my friends Randy and Shawn Morris, both prominent local Republicans, to get a local GOP appraisal. Randy and Shawn told of the safeguards in place to deal with complaints of unfairness and illegality in elections and detailed how, and that, the system works. (That Mogensen and McEntee did the detective work necessary to find two Republicans in Athens speaks to their diligence, don't you think?) During their time here, they and their colleagues across the country will contribute interim reports that can be found on the organization's website. Immediately after the election, a preliminary report of the findings will be published, with a final version appearing some weeks later. The studies from the elections that have been observed in the past are also there. "These are primarily of use to diplomats and officials," said McEntee. "They're available so the public can read them, but that's not their purpose." A short time on the site suggests that they would be a wealth of research material for anyone studying political science, international relations, modern history, or any of a number of public policy disciplines. If you'd like to take a look, go to http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections. McEntee, originally from Glasgow, Scotland, is a lawyer by training. Mogensen, who studied in the U.S., is also an associate professor of journalism at Roskilde University in Roskilde, Denmark. Which brings us back to my original observation: they, like others I know from overseas, undertake international travel as readily as you and I go to, say, Wisconsin. It's a remarkable thing. There are, of course, exceptions. I think of my friend Pat Murphy, whom I've known since the first week of ninth grade, where a shared passion for photography got us talking. He went on to Yale and to law school at the University of Virginia. Then he went into government work and spent about two decades working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Moscow. You may have read that USAID has recently been invited by Czar-wannabe Vladamir Putin to get outa town, which it has done. Pat was retiring from the agency, anyway. Having spent most of his adult life in Eastern Europe, Pat did not, as we might expect, immediately come running to the U.S. Instead, he purchased a home in old town Vilnius, Lithuania. There he and his lovely wife Elena will spend – well, as long as they want. They may at some point in the future choose a different locale. During his years at USAID, Pat was sent all over the world, often frequently enough to different places to get to know them more than we typically learn of a place on even an extended vacation. The effect was to broaden his choices, to add a lot of possibilities. We hear a lot about "globalization," and the Lord knows there are many dangerous locales. But it is still fascinating to see people who travel and even live from country to country and who, wonder of wonders, find it a comfortable thing to do. Editor's note: Dennis E. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. His column appears on Mondays. You can reach him at dep@drippingwithirony.com.
Period21 Oct 2012

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