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International poll watchers meet with Polk County

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 11:33 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — A group of international voting monitors whose members were threatened with arrest in Texas if they try to watch elections there asked permission on Monday to monitor a polling location in Iowa next week.

Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald met Monday with officials from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is sending observers from its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to several U.S. states including Iowa. The monitors would be from such countries as Albania, Russia and Turkey, and the group says they would primarily serve an educational role.

“Their observation involves meetings with officials, political parties and candidates, as well as representatives from civil society and the media, both in the state capital and around the state,” group spokeswoman Giovanna Maiola said in an email.

The organization plans to visit a few other counties in Iowa and will decide alter where they’d like to watch on Election Day, Fitzgerald said. Election officials are not obligated to let them watch, but Fitzgerald said he doesn’t see a problem with it as long as there’s no disruption.

It will be the sixth U.S. election observed by the group since 2002. The OSCE is not an arm of the United Nations. Its observers generally are members of parliament from of organization members, which include the United States and 55 countries in Europe and Central Asia.

In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott told the group that he would prosecute observers who go near the polls. Abbott raised concerns about OSCE’s intentions in Texas, citing the group’s meetings with opponents of voter ID initiatives.

The group called Abbott’s threat “unacceptable” in a letter to the State Department, which reassured Texas that the U.N observers will follow state election laws

The international observers could have company during this election from Republican and Democratic party representatives who want to watch voters, both to ensure nothing goes wrong and to seek out supporters who haven’t cast ballots. Each party can have up to three poll watchers at each polling location.

“I’ve had more questions on it I can say that,” said Chad Olsen, the chief of staff for Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. “I think that because of the state of the race we’ve got a lot of recruitment going on out there to make sure all these polling locations have poll watchers at them.”

The international poll watchers are separate from monitors that each political party is allowed to send to voting precincts on Election Day. Those watchers, allowed by state law, serve two primary roles — reporting irregularities they witness and checking the party voter lists to see who has shown up to vote.

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