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International Observers Discuss The 2020 Presidential Election

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

So a team of international observers is here to watch the election. They've been invited by the State Department, as is customary. But in another sign of these times, they already have major concerns, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The State Department says the U.S. is leading by example. A spokesperson says that seeing American democracy in action challenges and inspires other countries. This year, the challenges are immense.

URSZULA GACEK: I mean, it's like 50 different elections in a way in terms of the rules, which vary so much from state to state.

KELEMEN: That's Urszula Gacek, a former Polish diplomat and lawmaker who's leading the observer team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The 57-country group has been monitoring U.S. elections for nearly two decades.

GACEK: There's nowhere as complicated as the United States. It is absolutely the most complex system.

KELEMEN: Gacek heads a group of 45 observers, a smaller-than-usual team because of COVID. They're visiting polling stations in 28 states. Some states don't allow any foreign observers. Voter ID and other rules differ across the country. And speaking via Skype, Gacek points out that rules are being changed and challenged in court even as millions of Americans cast their ballots early.

GACEK: This election has become about an election. The very way you cast your vote has become a hot political discussion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They're being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country.

JOE BIDEN: There is no...

TRUMP: This is not...

BIDEN: There is no evidence of that.

TRUMP: This is not going to end well.

KELEMEN: At the first presidential debate, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden clashed on mail-in and early voting. Trump made a series of unsubstantiated allegations and wouldn't say whether he would accept the results. He's continued to question the U.S. voting system at rally after rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: It's all Democrat-run states are the ones that are the problem.

KELEMEN: In an initial report, the OSCE raised concerns about Trump's rhetoric and his refusal to commit to a peaceful transition if he loses. The monitors also flagged the potential for voter intimidation on Election Day. Ambassador Gacek says her team will be watching.

GACEK: You know, if a tough message needs to be delivered, we don't shy away from it, but it's all about the procedure.

KELEMEN: She says the OSCE gets invited back because it focuses on the procedures rather than politics.

GACEK: Sometimes people say, well, you know, you must be rooting for somebody in this election. I said, well, yeah, of course I am. And then they think they're going to get the scoop. And you know who I'm rooting for, don't you? - the voter. That's it.

KELEMEN: Voters who are dealing with long lines at polling stations, misinformation and confusing ID laws in a country that has long been a model for others.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.