Rotary Club member, Dick Lyons has served as a Election Observer, volunteer for the State Department, serving in Europe and Central Asia. He has completed about 15 Election Observation missions in Europe and Russia.  Leading into his talk, he offered this disclaimer,  "The information shared today is my opinion and does not reflect the opinions of the OSCE”. So who is the OSCE?   Dick explained that this organization acts a bit like a “mini-UN”  The OSCE is a forum for political dialogue on security issues for the joint action to improve the lives of individuals and communities. The OSCE has 57 participating states in Europe, Asia and North America.    Dick guided us through several elements of the election process in countries he served, offering some compare and contrast with US election practices.

Election Day: Most countries have elections on national holidays or Sundays.  So why does the US have elections on Tuesday?  It is thought related to 19th century religious traditions of Sunday Sabbath, travel time to the county seat to vote and farming/market demands.

Length of Campaigns:  In the US 18 months is a customary campaign.  In other countries, campaigns range from 6-16 weeks.  The campaign ends with a final rally, before starting the “quiet period”, where no campaigning or ads are allowed.  All signage is also removed.  Quiet periods last 2-3 days, allowing the voter time to reflect on their voting decision.

Opening of the Polls:  In Tajikistan they open the polls with a band. Some countries play the national anthem, some read a proclamation.  Something to mark the solemnity of the election process. In the US a simple announcement, "The polls are now open" is offered, however, in 2020 Denver opened the polls with a mariachi band.

First Time Voters:  Recognition of individual's first vote is common in European countries with flowers, certificate or such.

Mobile Voting:  Mobile voting for the disabled is common in the European countries. Mobile voting can include election judges traveling to nursing homes, prisons and hospitals.  In the US we do provide mobile voting in senior communities.

National Voter ID cards are common in European countries. Invisible ink is also used to prevent multiple voting.  In the US, after first registering to vote, an individual can provide an option of ID’s depending on state requirements. 

There are between 300-700 election judges.  The US sends about 10% of the election judges. There are two observers to a team, who travel with a driver and interpreters.  You are given a list of precincts and the Observer selects the sites to monitor.  Smart phones are issued for submitting reports in a prompt manner. The days are long for an Election Observer: 7am to 7pm, and you may be asked to stay up late into the night while votes are tabulated.  The actual voting boxes are also closely monitored by the Election Observer.   

"It's been a rewarding experience and I'm grateful for the opportunity to contribute"