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OSCE rights group requests 500 international observers to monitor U.S. presidential vote

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe aims to send 500 international observers to observe November’s U.S. presidential election, a tenfold increase from the number the group deployed in 2012.

A combination photo shows U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) and Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) in Los Angeles, California on May 5, 2016 and in Eugene, Oregon, U.S. on May 6, 2016 respectively. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (L) and Jim Urquhart/File Photos

A coalition of more than 200 U.S. civil rights groups urged the OSCE in a letter released on Tuesday to provide even more than the 500 observers the OSCE requested based on an assessment it conducted in May. The actual observers will be dispatched by the international security and rights organization’s 57 participating states.

The letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said the OSCE’s role was “even more critical” in light of the U.S. Justice Department’s July announcement, first reported by Reuters, that it would deploy election observers to far fewer polling sites this year than in previous elections.

Civil rights advocates say voters are more likely to face racial bias at the polls in November than they have in 50 years, because of voting laws that several states passed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the landmark anti-discrimination 1965 Voting Rights Act three years ago.

Supporters of the laws say they are necessary to combat voter fraud.

Earlier this month, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made his own plea for election observers before an audience in Pennsylvania and said the only way he could lose the state would be if “in certain sections of the state they cheat.”

Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference, told Reuters that international observers could not fill the void left by Justice Department-deployed observers, who numbered 840 in 2004, the last election for which the department provided numbers for federal observers.

“We profess to bring democracy to various parts of the world where we monitor elections, but then our own country is embarrassed by its failure to ensure adequate elections here at home,” said Henderson.

OSCE spokesman Thomas Rymer said the number of observers the group hoped to deploy to the United States was fixed at 500 but that the Leadership Conference letter would factor into the group’s decision about where to send the observers.

The letter urged the OSCE to focus its resources on eight states in which it said “enhanced voter intimidation efforts” were likely, including Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where the Nov. 8 contest between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton is expected to be close.

Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Peter Cooney