The Birmingham News (Birmingham, AL)
Posted on September 7, 2004
By Jeremy Gray and Marienne Thomas-Ogle News staff writers
A group of Russian election officials on a mission to watch democracy in action will make Hoover and Shelby County part of a weeklong tour of Alabama.
The nine-member group will arrive in Atlanta on Thursday, before traveling to Hoover on Saturday, said Friendship Forces program services coordinator Peter May.
Friendship Forces is a nonprofit international cultural exchange organization that was formed in 1977. In 1992, the group was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
"They'll be going to election commissioners and meeting with government officials and looking at all of our election processes at all levels," May said of the visitors.
The program, known as the Open World Program, is funded by a grant from the U.S. Library of Congress. Elections, Page 3B 1B
The Open World Program was authorized by Congress in 1999 in order to increase mutual understanding between Russia and the United States.
The program pairs Russian political leaders with their American counterparts, according to information available on the Open World Web page.
Gerald Waldrop, a retired political science professor, is president of the Friendship Force Club of Birmingham and found the host families in Alabaster, Helena, Hoover and Montgomery.
Waldrop said the visitors range in age from 25 to 45 and serve as regional politicians, party leaders or election commissioners in their home country.
On their first day here, the group will visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute before retiring to the homes of their host families.
For their second day, the Russian visitors will be greeted by Helena Mayor Charles "Sonny" Penhale at a barbecue hosted by one of the Helena host families, according to the group itinerary.
On day three, the group will study the local election process with Waldrop, Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry, state Rep. Cam Ward, and Probate Judge Patricia Yeager Fuhrmeister.
Under state law, Curry and Fuhrmeister are responsible for conducting elections within their jurisdiction by overseeing the preparation of ballots and the distribution of election devices.
The group's visit also will coincide with the state's municipal runoff races.
To get a firsthand look at the election process in the metro area, the group will visit a Hoover polling station and attend the victory party of the winning candidate in the Hoover mayoral race.
That same day, the group will tour the downtown offices of The Birmingham News and the Alabama State Republican Headquarters in Hoover.
On Sept. 15, the group will travel to Hoover City Hall to witness the City Council certify the result of the previous night's election.
Afterward, the group will travel to Montgomery to tour the state House and Senate chambers.
While in the Capitol, the group will meet with a host of state officials, including Gov. Bob Riley, AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert and Secretary of State Nancy Worley.
The Russian visitors were nominated by former Russian delegates and are screened by the American Council for International Education, another group that is helping fund that project and has an office in Moscow, May said.
[Reprinted with Permission]