International observers flood into US to watch elections

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On the streets of Hong Kong amid the crowded Times Square shopping and office towers, Chan Kit-man candidly offers her opinion about the upcoming and faraway U.S. presidential election and Republican nominee Donald Trump's charge that the vote across the country will be "rigged" against him.

"I do not agree with him," says the 18-year-old student. "He just wants to... only accept the election result if he wins the election. "

Related: Early voting underway in US

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A sign indicating no phones are allowed in ballot booths is displayed as a man casts his ballot during early voting at the San Diego County Elections Office in San Diego, California, U.S., November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
An attendee holds a sign reading 'Nasty Women Vote' during of a campaign event with Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. As the U.S. presidential race heads into its final weekend, Donald Trump is showing strength in Iowa and Ohio pre-Election Day voting, while Clinton's advantage in early balloting looks stronger in North Carolina and Nevada. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A man holds his ballot sleeve as he lines up to vote at an early voting polling centre in Miami, Florida on November 3, 2016. / AFP / RHONA WISE (Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)
A line of early voters waits outside the Franklin County Board of Elections, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. Heavy turnout has caused long lines as voters take advantage of their last opportunity to vote before election day. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2016 file photo, people vote at a polling station on the first day of early voting in Miami-Dade County for the general election in Miami. Florida voters decide Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, whether Marco Rubio should serve a second term, medical marijuana should be legalized and to pick at least eight new U.S. House members. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
A child watches as a polling worker waves over an early voter to an open booth at the Franklin County Board of Elections, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. Heavy turnout has caused long lines as voters take advantage of their last opportunity to vote before election day. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Paul Mosher takes a selfie after voting at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016, in San Jose , Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
A young boy stretches as he stands next to a woman filling out her ballot during early voting at a polling station inside Truman College on October 31, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. / AFP / Joshua Lott (Photo credit should read JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks past the Early Vote Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, ME - OCTOBER 18: Early voters in Portland. Kaila Moore, left, and Justin Chamberlain, both of Portland, seal their ballots after voting early at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18: Residents cast ballots for the November 8 election at an early voting site on October 18, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. With three weeks to go until election day, polls show Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton with a lead over GOP rival Donald Trump. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Voters cast ballots as early absentee voting began ahead of the U.S. presidential election in Medina, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
US President Barack Obama votes early at the Cook County Office Building in Chicago, Illinois, October 7, 2016. Obama cast an early ballot on Friday, highlighting a Democratic drive to get voters to the polls even before November 8. During an unannounced visit, Obama stood before a voting machine at the Chicago Board of Elections office, punched in his choice and smirked when asked who he had voted for. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Poll workers look on as US President Barack Obama (C) gestures towards the press as he votes early at the Cook County Office Building in Chicago, Illinois, October 7, 2016. Obama cast an early ballot on Friday, highlighting a Democratic drive to get voters to the polls even before November 8. During an unannounced visit, Obama stood before a voting machine at the Chicago Board of Elections office, punched in his choice and smirked when asked who he had voted for. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A man registers to vote at the Early Vote Center in northeast Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
Joseph and Maria Caruso vote inside the Early Vote Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota after work on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
A bucket of 'I Voted' stickers inside the Early Vote Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 5, 2016. Voters in Minnesota can submit their ballot for the General Election at locations across the state every day until Election Day on November 8, 2016. / AFP / STEPHEN MATUREN (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
A young boy tags along at a voting booth as early voting beings at the Hamilton County Board of Elections, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
James Chambers deposits his vote into a ballot box at the Hamilton County Board of Elections as early voting begins statewide, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A voter passes a ballot box as she arrives at the Hamilton County Board of Elections as early voting begins statewide, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 23: Signage at an early voting center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 23: Minneapolis resident Robin Marty takes a selfie with an 'I Voted' sign after voting early at the Northeast Early Voting Center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Laika (last name not given) poses for a portrait with his 'I Voted! Did You?' wrist band after voting early at a polling station inside Truman College on October 31, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. / AFP / Joshua Lott (Photo credit should read JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
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In Ukraine's capital city of Kiev, Andriy Bekeshta also dismisses the GOP candidate's claim that he's fighting against a stacked deck of institutional opposition that includes politicians, the news media and Wall Street executives, ignoring the long list of people and institutions Trump has attacked, as visualized by The New York Times.

"Americans had rigged elections during Bush junior times," says the 46-year-old sociologist and manager, referring to the contested 2000 U.S. presidential election, where Democratic nominee Al Gore won the national popular vote but lost the electoral vote after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a recount in Florida. "But I don't think anyone would rig elections against Trump."

And in Lyon, France, skepticism is similarly strong about Trump's argument of being a victim. "I think that he is someone who is used to rig(ging) the game in his favor, so I think that he's in a bad position to say this," says Richard Giroud, who lives in Meyzieu, a commune of Lyon.

Clearly, in this historic and unusual U.S. presidential campaign, the world is watching, often through blinking, disbelieving eyes. And the world will be just a few feet from where ballots are cast. This year, representatives from two international organizations will fan out across the country to observe American democracy in action at local polling stations.

Officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe announced a timeline earlier in October to deploy hundreds more observers than it has at any time since it began watching U.S. elections in 2002. The Organization for American States also says it will send a delegation for the first time to witness the presidential elections.

Trump vs. Clinton on key issues

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The plans by the two international organizations come amid claims by both major-party presidential candidates of outside meddling. Trump claims the election will be fixed against him and has called on his supporters to act as independent observers at local stations. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has faced a barrage of embarrassing internal Democratic Party emails released by Wikileaks, accuses the Russian government of interfering with the presidential race. She claims a Trump presidency will be more accommodating to moves such as Moscow's annexation of Crimea, part of Ukraine.

The OSCE generally deploys observers to countries where there is a belief that the election process can be improved. Following the 2012 U.S. election, OSCE observers reported glitches, according to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Issues cited included vote counting, excluded election observers and confusing voting processes.

The substantial increase of OSCE observers for this U.S. election comes from an assessment and recommendations made last May, says OSCE spokesman Thomas Rymer. The recommendations came after organization officials spoke with U.S. state election officials, as well as representatives from political parties, the news media and non-governmental organizations.

Rymer, speaking by telephone from Montenegro, says OSCE observers evaluate issues such as voter registration and identification laws, electronic voting machines and whether the news media provides accurate and objective information to the public.

The OSCE's plans call for 11 election core experts, already working in Washington, D.C., and through the election. Another 26 observers from seven European countries arrived in mid-October and have deployed across the U.S. On Nov. 4, about 300 more short-term observers will arrive, be briefed and then dispatched across the country. Rymer did not say where the observers will be.

In a report released last week, the World Justice Project rated the U.S. comparatively high in the world for its lawful transition of power, a factor the organization uses to evaluate countries' election procedures.

Earlier in October, The Associated Press reported that at least three U.S. states have rejected Russian requests to send their own monitors to observe the polling process. The National Conference of State Legislatures says 12 U.S. states forbid international observers.

Meanwhile, people living in countries and territories facing their own worries of political polarization and corruption reject Trump's charges that a vote will be rigged against him, unless he wins. People randomly asked in Hong Kong, Ukraine and France express an almost sentimental belief in the stability of the U.S. political process.

In Hong Kong, a territory of China, residents have their own growing concerns over the mainland's corrupting the local political process. In early September, local elections were held for seats to the Legislative Council, a body seen generally as a rubber-stamp to actions by the local government, which in turn is viewed as being directed on policy by Beijing. Anxiety has been growing for years that China's promise of "One country, two systems" is false, crumbling under the sway of a local elite class of tycoons with strong economic interests on the mainland. From their perspective, the U.S. political process may be imperfect, but is far more attractive to what they face.

"I think it is well-known, the U.S. is definitely the most democratic country in the world," says John Chang, a 41-year-old technology consultant. "The U.S. is the most free country in the world."

Chan Kit-man, the student, says U.S. citizens are in an enviable position compared to people in mainland China and North Korea. "They (Americans) can vote for who they want and voice their opinion, whatever they want," she says, conceding that her views are based on news reports.

In Ukraine, corruption has long plagued the political and economic spheres in the country since it declared independence in 1991 from the former Soviet Union. People interviewed on the streets of Kiev say they have high regard for U.S democracy, praising a society where people can share their opinion freely and where institutions and the rule of law appear to them to work well.

Most Ukrainians judge Clinton and Trump based on their positions about Ukraine and Russia. They assess Trump through the prism of a man whose former campaign chairman lobbied on behalf of a pro-Russian party in Ukraine, according to exclusive reports from The Associated Press. Some interviewed say Trump's words ring similar to Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky or former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after being ousted from government.

"No one else damaged his reputation more than he did himself," Andriy Bekeshta, the sociologist, says of Trump. "Of course I would support Hillary, because I don't want a guy who said Crimea is (part of) Russia to become a president of the country that helps us a lot."

Adds Liliya Gunko, a 44-year-old housewife: "I was shocked when I heard that Trump could become a president of (the) U.S. He hates women; he is loud and not very smart. For me he looks like Zhirinovsky or our Yanukovych."

In France, citizens have experienced a traumatic series of terrorist attacks in less than two years, helping to fuel a nationalist movement already has been on the rise. The government has struggled to find its footing with its Muslim population and deepening social divides that have tested French institutions.

In Lyon, Georges Tsaousis says his belief in the French media remains unshaken, and he questions why Trump would attack institutions such as the press and voting process, both part of the American fabric. "There are always people who are going to believe that. But I don't think that he himself believes what he says." In a civilized country, Tsaousis adds, "... really, how could the elections be rigged?"

A 69-year-old woman retiree from Lyon, extends that thought. Rules, she says, have to be followed for society to function.

Contributors include Christy Choi in Hong Kong; Louise Hemmerlé in Lyon, France; and Veronica Melkozerova in Kiev, Ukraine.

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

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