Cooper County Clerk Darryl Kempf was recently selected by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights as an international short-term election observer (STO) for the March 24 Municipal Elections in Macedonia. Macedonia, officially the Republic of Macedonia, is a country located in the central Balkan peninsula in Southeast Europe. It is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in 1991.
Kempf said it was nearly impossible for him to get acclimated to the time zone change. He said it was draining to make rounds as an observer because he wasn’t able to sleep the first couple of evenings because of his travel and flights, which covered a 24 hour period.
Kempf said the presence of the international observers is to witness the conduct of elections.
"It is a way of strengthening the election process founded on democratic principles," Kempf said.
The 150 international observers are sent out in teams of two, accompanied with an interpreter and driver. Kempf was teamed up with Dr. Claudia Schulze, who was from Germany. Kempf learned she he had previously participated in numerous observation missions over a time span of several years.
Kempf and Schulze were assigned to an area on the western region of the Republic of Macedonia. At a briefing Kempf learned that the area he was to be assigned was a very controversial area in the 2002 municipal election. One of the team members who was present during that election shared with Kempf that he and his partner had to call NATO security to get them out of the area when the Muslim influence tried to overrun the election process.
Prior to leaving for the observation mission, Kempf had a chance to visit with Ambassador Geert-Hinrich Ahrens of Germany. Hinrich Ahrens agreed the area had an Albanian influence contrasting with the local Turkish Muslims. However, Hinrich Ahrens told Kempf he felt the controversy of 2002 had settled down to a tolerable level between the ethnicity of the two groups.
Kempf and Schulze spent an entire Saturday surveying almost all of the 34 polling stations in the Mavrovo National Park region, which the had been assigned. Along their journey throughout the area a local driver pointed out many landmarks, including Mount Korab, the highest mountain of Albania and the Republic of Macedonia; it’s peak forming a frontier between the two countries.
The election was held on the next day on March 24. Polls opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 7 p.m. Kempf said the polling hours were very similar to the polling hours in Missouri. Kempf was present that morning when the first polling station was being set up by the local election board.
"Not only are the observers able to witness the election process, they have a set of election related questions to inquire of the local election board. The observations and interviews are recorded on a prescribed set of forms," Kempf said.
Page 2 of 2 - Kempf was soon transferred from tourists to election worker.
"Claudia didn’t waste any time putting me to work. Claudia performed the interview of the Election Board at the first polling station when they opened. When the team of observers accompanied with driver and interpreter arrived at the second polling station, Claudia turned the interview over to me," Kempf said.
He said the entire day was spent observing the election process in numerous polling stations, making observation of occurrences in each station before reporting on to others.
Similar to the elections held in the United states, Kempf said the election judges in Rostusa and Mavrovo were represented by various political parties.
"They had five Election Board members working in each polling station. These judges were very conscientious of performing the election in an orderly and democratic process," Kempf said.
Kempf observed that in the region, similar to the way it is in the United States, individuals discussed and talked over their choice of candidates while enjoying their Turkish coffee at the local outdoor coffee shops.
"In Missouri we have provisions in statutes for 'challengers' and 'watchers' being in the election location. However, usually they are not at every election and not at every polling place. In the Mavrovo and Rostusa area every polling station had upwards of five or six local observers representing the various political parties," Kempf said.
Unlike in the United States, election board members in Macedonia are not allowed to start counting ballots until the polling stations closed at 7 p.m.
"The election board members drew lots to see who would read aloud the name of the person who was selected on each and every ballot. The same board member would display each and every ballot in order that all observers could agree as to how the ballot was voted," Kempf said.
Following this procedure, Kempf said it took the Election Board two hours to count 500 ballots for one mayoral race.
"In the United States the winning candidates and their supporters hold parties celebrating their victory. In the region we were in, once the political party had enough votes come in to calculate they had won they held a victory party out in the school court yard in front of the voting polling station. The crowd was waving the flag of their party, circling the court yard while beating on drums, blowing on horns and trumpets," he said.
During the election process Kempf visited and socialized with numerous observers from the United States and from all over the world. He met and became friends with observers from Germany, Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom and Romania, including a United States Peace Corp worker from Nebraska.
Kempf said it was truly a fulfilling experience to witness the democratic election process on an international scale.