November 2nd, 2012
11:25 AM ET

How international election observers rile some states

By Jean MacKenzie, GlobalPost

Editor's Note: The following text is from GlobalPost, which provides views — importantmoving or just odd — from around the world. The views expressed are the author's own.

“If Obama is re-elected, we will move more and more toward one world,” said Bonnie Re, an election worker in Boca Raton, Florida.

The prospect did not excite the co-chair of the Boca Raton chapter of the Romney Express, an organization dedicated to helping the former Massachusetts governor become president of the United States.

America is special, she emphasized, and did not need to interact with other countries on the basis of equality. One act of Barack Obama’s really stuck in her craw.

“He called in U.N. election monitors. Can you imagine?”

It is not at all difficult to imagine international observers at U.S. polling places. In fact, they have been here in every election since 2002, which means it was on a Republican president’s watch – George W. Bush, to be exact – that the practice began.

But it is not the bruised and battered United Nations that sends them. It is the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a body of which the United States is a founding member. The U.S. routinely sends observers to other countries’ elections — including to such political hotspots as France, the United Kingdom and Canada.

The U.S. is a federation, meaning that each state has a large degree of autonomy. And at least two of those states — Texas and Iowa — are having no truck with foreigners “interfering with the election process.”

Texas Secretary of State Gregg Abbott reportedly sent a strongly worded letter to Ambassador Daan Everts of the OSCE on October 23, in which he made his position clear:

“Elections and election observers are regulated by state law,” he wrote. “The OSCE’s representatives are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place. It may be a criminal offense for OSCE’s representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place‘s entrance. Failure to comply with these requirements could subject the OSCE’s representatives to criminal prosecution.”

Did the governor of the great state of Texas rein in his hot-blooded secretary of state?

Just the opposite. Texas Governor Rick Perry, himself a former presidential contender, promptly sent out a Tweet in which he heartily applauded the action:

“No UN monitors/inspectors will be part of any TX election process; I commend @TXsecofstate for swift action to clarify issue.”

Now Iowa has followed suit. On Tuesday, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Shultz issued a statement saying that Iowa election officials are empowered under the law to arrest any unauthorized persons at polling places. This, he made clear, included OSCE officials.

“Iowa law is very specific about who is permitted at polling places, and there is no exception for members of this group,” wrote Shultz.

The OSCE, needless to say, is unhappy with the current face-off.

“The threat of criminal sanctions against OSCE/ODIHR observers is unacceptable,” said Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, the director of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR is within the OSCE). “The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODIHR observers to observe its elections.”

Some are wondering what all the fuss is about — why are state officials so reluctant to allow foreign observers to do their jobs?

Abbott is happy to spell it out. The OSCE has met with organizations, specifically Project Vote, he said, that are protesting voter registration and ID laws that they say are discriminatory.

The question has elicited quite a bit of passion in this election campaign.

There is one school of thought — call it Republican — that wants to tighten voter ID requirements to prevent voter fraud. The other school — overwhelmingly inhabited by Democrats — thinks that the obsession with voter fraud is just a ploy to disenfranchise voters who might swing the election toward Obama next Tuesday.

This whole question is outlined brilliantly by Jane Mayer in the latest issue of the New Yorker, in a piece entitled “The Voter-Fraud Myth”:

“The vast majority of the lawmakers who have pushed for voter IDs have been Republicans. As Bill Clinton has put it, 'This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate' — when many young and minority voters stayed home — 'than the 2008 electorate.' Clinton said that the 'effort to limit the franchise' was the most determined 'since we got rid of the poll tax and all the other Jim Crow burdens on voting.'”

Texas has had to go to court to have its voter ID laws upheld, and Abbott is not happy about it.

In August, a federal court struck down the Texas law, ruling that it would hurt turnout among minority voters and impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor” by charging those voters who lack proper documentation fees to obtain election ID cards.

Texas did win a battle with Project Vote in September, when a federal court upheld some restrictions on voter registration.

“OSCE has identified voter ID laws as a barrier to the right to vote,” wrote Abbott. “But your opinion is legally irrelevant in the United States.”

Cynthia Alkon, an associate professor of law at the Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas, worked with the OSCE and served as an election observer in Albania. In an op-ed piece in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, she took Abbott to task for his reaction. The OSCE mission, she points out, is not large — just 57 observers for the entire U.S.

“Texas will not be inundated with foreigners ‘interfering’ at every polling place,” wrote Alkon. “At most, we will see a few highly professional and experienced observers who will watch and not interfere in the election process in any way."

She added, "I'm left to wonder, however, why anyone would be worried about a few folks wandering around watching an election. Vibrant democracies should not worry about conducting elections in the open for all to see. If Abbott is, as he says, proud of the ‘measures Texas has implemented to protect the integrity of elections’ he should be equally proud to have any and all come watch the process firsthand.”

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Topics: 2012 Election • Elections

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Horned Dolphin

    Why did the Pantload-in-chief allow this....of yeah, I forgot, it's Bush's fault.

    Black Panthers, ACLU, NAACP – all wishing for a different Amerika called them in. One of you bums show up at my poll please – especially a NBP – we can be on television together.

    November 2, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Reply
    • Jose79845

      Republicans will welcome the UN oberservers if they can find a way to "calibrate" the voting machines to defeat as many marijuana initiatives as possible.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Reply
  2. Mark

    I would be more than happy to have them in Texas at any polling place...escorted at all times by a State Trooper.
    Foreign organizations, of any kind, engaging in any unsupervised activities related to ongoing elections is not acceptable.

    November 2, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply
    • Launch The Polaris

      Daggum foreigners. If they aint American, I dont wanna know em! Probably a buncha mooslims anyways.

      November 2, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Reply
      • sher

        We have laws in Texas and we enforce them. If we don't like law, WE change it. And these folks can come here and test it if they want to.

        November 4, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Much ado about nothing! What's all this fuss about in Iowa and Texas? THE OSCE mission will only send 57 observers for the whole US. Their presence will merely be sympbolic. These people can't be everywhere.

    November 3, 2012 at 7:44 am | Reply
    • sher

      Then there will be more of them to gather in Chicago!

      November 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  4. Hipocracry rules

    We want to export democracy with our miitary but aren't willing to expose our process? What are they trying to hide in Texas and Iowa? Could it be the repeat of the actions of the 2008 by an organization called "True the Vote" who are preaching voter intimidation? Because they are planning on expanding their intimidation activities to more sites and statees? Some Americans tout our corrupt version of democracy as being so treasured, but are afraid to have somebody watch it in action. If somebody tells me how goood something is and that I should try it, but won't allow me to observe them doing it, then I think they have something to hide.

    November 4, 2012 at 10:25 am | Reply
    • John Q Public

      Nope, who says we're all for exporting our views militarily? Same for the mess we wondered into called the Arab Spring. What I and many are opposed to is that the UN has NO, and I repeat NO authority or business sticking its nose into the affairs of ANY sovereign nation, whether it's the US or anyone else, for whatever reason.

      The UN represents Satan.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  5. msmii

    The voter observation team that had been requested by the ACLU, NAACP, and the group called Leadership on Civil and Human Rights, is supervised by at least three anti-American Soviet puppets. These three are Bolat Berselayev, Elchin Musayev, and Janez Lucarcic.

    November 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  6. TimB

    Just makes me proud of Texas and Iowa. If it were up to me we'd cut funding to the UN altogether, crank up a really big dozier and push the UN building into the ocean. I'd like to see some of these clowns locked up in a Texas jail

    November 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply

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