NOTE TO EDITORS: Interviews with individual international-student volunteers can be arranged. Also, media representatives may attend either of two Oct. 27 training sessions and/or accompany the volunteers to polling places on Nov. 2.
Oct. 25, 2004
PHILADELPHIA On Election Day next week, Americans won't be the only ones participating in our 228-year-old democracy.
Dozens of international students and scholars at the University of Pennsylvania, caught up in the election excitement in much the same way as U.S. citizens have been, will be volunteering to help their American hosts and neighbors by serving as polling place monitors.
Working with the Committee of Seventy, a Philadelphia non-partisan organization that works to ensure fair elections, and with Penn's Office of Government, Community and Public Affairs, the visitors to America are being trained to observe the operation of polling places and report problems.
"We were approached by international students who are caught up in the excitement of our country's election process," said Shalini Bhutani, director of International Student and Scholar Services in Penn's Office of International Programs.
"They wanted to do more than just read about it in newspapers and watch it on television. They were eager to participate in some way in democracy in action in their host country," she said.
"In my country," said graduate student Turgut Mustafayev of Azerbaijan, "all presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections have been marred by fraud. For the first time ever, I would like to see how an election can be run fairly."
James Redfern of the United Kingdom sees volunteering as participating in a process that, because of the international status of the U.S., "affects all of us around the world."
"It would be nice to play a part in a critical determinant of the future of my and my children's world," he said.
On Nov. 2, these volunteers will be assigned specific territories including dozens of polling places in Philadelphia. Trained in the basic points of the election code, they will spot and report problems, such as voting-machine malfunctions.
The Committee of Seventy, founded in 1904, is a not-for-profit, non-partisan, political watchdog group dedicated to advancing good government for Philadelphia and the surrounding region. Additional information about the Committee of Seventy is available at http://www.seventy.org.