WASHINGTON — Still smarting from the 2000 Florida recount, a group of congressional Democrats, led by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, has asked the United Nations to monitor this year’s presidential election.
“We are deeply concerned that the right of U.S. citizens to vote in free and fair elections is again in jeopardy,” the lawmakers wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
While the request might evoke images of blue-helmeted peacekeepers outside the local library, it won’t be granted.
“Generally, the United Nations does not intervene in electoral affairs unless the request comes from a national government or an electoral authority — not the legislative branch,” said U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe.
Besides Johnson, Democratic members of Congress signing the letter to Annan were Julia Carson of Indiana; Jerrold Nadler, Edolphus Towns, Joseph Crowley and Carolyn B. Maloney, all of New York; Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Corrine Brown of Florida, Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, Danny K. Davis of Illinois and Michael M. Honda of California.
The Democrats said they feared a repeat of the 2000 election, which was won by George Bush, a Republican, through the Electoral College count even though he lost the popular vote.
The Democrats had asked in the letter for “international election monitors” to watch for “questionable practices and voter disenfranchisement on Election Day.”
The close outcome between Bush and Al Gore in 2000 was clouded by accusations that ballots — many of them cast by minorities, who traditionally favor Democrats — were not counted because of faulty voting machines and improper election instructions.
The Democratic Congress members wrote that they did not think sufficient reforms had been implemented to prevent another voting debacle. “As the next Election Day approaches, there is more cause for alarm rather than less,” the letter said.
Because the U.N. Charter bars violations of sovereignty, the State Department, or perhaps the Federal Election Commission, would have to invite observers. And monitoring would have to be approved by the Security Council or the General Assembly.
The rule of thumb is one observer for each 100 polling sites, which would be an army of 2,000 foreigners deployed from Key West to Anchorage.
Johnson aides call the request justified. Her letter points to “widespread allegations of voter disenfranchisement” in Florida and other states in 2000, and it cites an April report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that found potential for “significant problems” this time around.
There is ample evidence that problems from 2000 persist.
Only $650 million of $3 billion Congress authorized for election reform since 2000 has reached states. On Friday, The Miami Herald reported that more than 2,100 eligible voters still appear on the state’s list of purged felons. Many are black Democrats.