International observers flood into US to watch elections
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
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
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