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What it means to be an Electoral Observer

Alison Sutherland visited our club on 18th July to tell us about the various elections she has worked on around the world in her capacity as an Observer.  There are two types of observer:  short term which involves being in the country for three to four weeks and long term which requires four months and total immersion in the area of the country designated.  Alison has recently been a short term observer in Turkey and a long term observer in Sierra Leone so she concentrated on these events although she has also covered elections in other parts of the world.  Each observer works with a partner from a different country and also employs a driver and an interpreter.  Once allocated to an area – in Alison’s last case this was a remote part of Northern Sierra Leone – the observers cannot leave without agreement until the election is over.  They need to travel the area as comprehensively as possible and review election information, press coverage, siting of polling stations, etc.  They must not take sides but do have to report on all aspects with the aim of checking that everyone who is entitled to vote can register and reach their designated polling station.

In remote areas having a vote is not quite as simple as dropping in to the polling booth on the way home from work, it can mean planning for a day’s walk or drive.  Alison had many photos of the areas she visited and it was fascinating to hear about the organisation that is required to provide this level of reporting.  Alison is a Soroptimist so it was also a great pleasure to see her again.