International Humphrey Fellows Observe the U.S. Election Process

As residents in the region headed to the polls on Nov. 6, the Humphrey fellows at American University Washington College of Law embarked on a day-long observation of the election process. 

The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program participants are legal scholars and professionals from around the world.  The program, sponsored by the State Department and operated out of the International Legal Studies program, provides these international fellows with non-degree academic study and professional experiences in the United States.

Alongisde American University professors and election experts Robert Pastor and George Guess, International Programs Coordinator Melanija Radnovic, and staff assistant Daniel Enos, fellows observed a number of polling stations in Arlington County, Virginia; Montgomery County, Maryland; and the District of Columbia. They talked with Chief Election Judges at each location.

The group asked questions about the intricacies of provisional ballots, voter ID requirements, the staffing of polling places, and the challenges and advantages of working with electronic voting machines, among other topics.  Fellows also commented on the differences and similarities between elections in their countries and the United States.

“I have been studying the U.S. election,”said Tashi Gyalpo of Bhutan of his experience at the polls. “I recently attended a talk about elections with European parliament members, and after that I learned that the United States is decentralized, and everything is based on trust. I was so surprised that despite the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have uniform systemic laws to govern elections, it still works. It’s been a nice experience to be here. I found the polling stations quite organized.”   

Liping Chen, from China, also shared that in her country the local people’s congresses are directly elected, with the other levels of government being indirectly elected. 

“Maybe for Americans this seems very normal, but everyone was very quiet,” said Chen after observing a polling station.  “For me, this is a big difference. That’s a good thing, though.”

In the afternoon, the group stopped by Common Cause, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that promotes open, honest, and accountable government.   The group sat in on a press conference where organization leaders reported and discussed instances of voter abuse, and the situation at the polls for those citizens impacted by Hurricane Sandy. President and CEO of Common Cause, Bob Edgar, talked with fellows about the organization’s work to protect voters. 

“It was a deep analysis about the elections, and an incomparable experience,” said Burak Turan Benli of Turkey.  “Mr. Edgar gave a great analysis of the electoral system.  Earlier at the polling stations, we were able to ask so many questions. It was great. We did see problems with voter participation and waiting time.”    

At the end of the day, the group followed the ballots to the Montgomery County Board of Elections, where they watched the ballot counting process, and talked with Election Director Margaret Jorgensen and other members of the Board.  They returned to the law school in time to hear the election results.

“The Fellows were absolutely grateful and elated for the opportunity to get a close-up look at the U.S. presidential election,” said Melanija Radnovic, International Programs coordinator. “They noticed differences at voting locations in the different states we visited, and had interesting ideas and suggestions for improving the process. In days to come, the fellows will continue to think about this unique experience and the ways the U.S. election system compares with their own countries’ election systems.”

Full list of 2012-2013 Humphrey Fellows

  • Ali Abbas Khayoon, Iraq
  • El Hadji Dialigué BA, Senegal
  • Eléonore Patinde M. L. Belemlilga, Burkina Faso
  • Burak Turan Benli, Turkey
  • Liping Chen, China
  • Ahmed Mohamed El-Sayed, Egypt
  • Tashi Gyalpo, Bhutan
  • Ahmad Ishaque Jehangir, Pakistan
  • Simone dos Santos Lemos-Fernandes, Brazil
  • Marcelo de França Moreira, Brazil
  • Jean Pierre Aristote Nziragutinya, Rwanda
  • Alejandro Pastori, Uruguay

Learn more about the 2012-2013 Fellows