Group visits Boone County to look at election process

Friday, September 24, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:56 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren met with international election officials Thursday to discuss U.S. election procedures.

The officials were part of Fair Election, an international election observation program made up of democratic countries around the world. Delegates travel to different states and convene to draft a report detailing what they learned from their visits. An eight-member delegation will return to the United States in November to view the election.

The delegates in Missouri came from England, Canada, the Philippines and South Africa. Their visit to Columbia was the last in a string of Missouri visits, including Kansas City, St. Louis and Jefferson City.

The program’s goal is to enhance confidence in the U.S. electorate, to compare international standards of election fairness and to support efforts for election reform.

Noren said she has worked with groups like Fair Election in the past because of the county’s election system.

“There are things unique to Boone County,” she said. “We have a Web site where voters can make address changes and get answers immediately. It’s a fairly advanced system that you don’t get anywhere else.”

Noren said she hoped the international officials would learn something about U.S. elections.

“I hope they see that there are areas of the country that have technology and use it,” she said.

Some of the issues discussed were ballot accuracy and poll confidentiality.

Terrence Humphreys, chief executive of Electoral Reform International Services, said accuracy seems to be a universal problem.

“I think we’re all accepting that there’s no perfect system, and we’re all struggling with that,” Humphreys said.

Noren agreed.

“We don’t have the perfect system, and I don’t know that we ever will,” she said.

Noren noted that although accuracy is a problem at many polling places, the problem can be remedied through use of technology. Boone County will use laptops, cell phones and pagers to help residents with issues such as checking their registration status and finding their polling places.

Some of the delegates found it interesting that the U.S. Secretary of State can oversee some parts of the election process and still hold partisan views.

Pansy Tlakula, chief electoral officer of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa, said people who act as officials in the election process in South Africa are constitutionally required to be non-partisan.

“It might interfere with the integrity of the election,” she said. “It’s absolutely a constitutional requirement that you have to be separate from any party, but maybe this is because it is a different political system.”

Humphreys said he considered the visit a positive one.

“It’s pretty impressive and this is going to be an exciting election,” he said. “When you know that every vote counts, it’s pretty encouraging.”

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