But given the problematic elections that took place at home in 2000 in Florida and in 2004 in Ohio, it has seemed the height of irony to send poll watchers abroad when the entity that seemed most in need of an army of observers was the U.S. election system itself.
This year the country got exactly that in the form of a national hotline staffed with thousands of volunteer legal experts and poll watchers who answered questions, advocated voter rights and documented how the world's leading democracy functioned or malfunctioned on November 4th, accomplishing something that no government entity seemed either interested or capable of doing before now.
The Election Protection Coalition, a network of more than 100 legal, voting rights and civil liberties groups was the force behind the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline, which provided legal experts to answer nearly 87,000 calls that came in over 750 phone lines on Election Day and dispatched experts to address problems in the field as they arose.
All of this was aided by a back-end system and web site, OurVoteLive, created and operated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which logged calls that came in to the hotline and displayed problem reports in near real time for the media and watchdog groups to observe. It was largely due to this hotline that the public learned about Election-Day problems in Florida, Virginia and elsewhere, and the site now offers the largest database of records documenting election problems and inquiries in the country. The database can be downloaded in its entirety or in report form from the search reports page.
The idea for a real-time monitoring system was launched in 2004 when Verified Voting, spurred by the 2000 election meltdown in Florida, built an open-source system and coordinated with the Election Protection Coalition to track reports that were coming in from the field about election-day problems that year.