AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — After Texas' top prosecutor told them to bring it on, the head of a group of international voting monitors at the center of an Election Day dust-up had a simple message Friday: settle down.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's threats to arrest election observers resulted from a misunderstanding, said the head of the effort run by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, adding that monitors will follow state laws prohibiting them from getting too close to polling entrances.
Daan Everts, the OSCE ambassador who received a skeptical letter from Abbott this week that set off a war of words to which even the U.S. State Department had to respond, told The Associated Press his monitors don't need to be inside polling places to observe the Nov. 6 election.
OSCE observers generally are members of parliament from organization member countries, which include the United States and 55 countries in Europe and Central Asia. The group has sent observers to poll locations across the U.S. since 2002 and stationed some in San Antonio in 2008.
Abbott wrote Everts on Tuesday saying he was unclear about OSCE's intentions in Texas and raised concerns about the group's meetings with opponents of voter ID initiatives. He said international groups "are not allowed to influence or interfere" with Texas elections and warned that monitors faced prosecution if they came within 100 feet of polling sites.
Everts, head of OSCE's long-term election observer mission, said the group is nonpartisan, comes down on no side of the voter ID debate and that U.S. elections are secure enough to where his monitors don't need to join registered and authorized poll watchers already inside.
"He should be better informed," Everts said of Abbott.
A spokeswoman for Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. On Thursday, Abbott tweeted "BRING IT" after another OSCE ambassador wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling Abbott's warnings of arrest "unacceptable."
Everts said he wanted to clear the air after a week of confusion, which seemed even to continue Friday.
At a briefing in Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said OSCE representatives were meeting in Austin with state authorities to hash out what was appropriate for monitors under Texas law. Everts, however, said he was unaware of any such meetings, as were Abbott's office and the Texas secretary of state.
In Europe, meanwhile, a spokesman for the Vienna-based OSCE told AP earlier Friday that monitors could not stay 100 feet away from polling stations in order to observe and evaluate things like ballot secrecy and the voting process. Thomas Rymer said OSCE was in touch with the State Department and hoped the situation would be resolved before the election.
Nuland, however, said no State Department officials were involved.
"They have said that they do not intend to violate any laws while in the United States," Nuland said. "So we are going to let the conversations go forward between the OSCE and Texas and see how that goes."
Everts later said OSCE didn't need to be inside Texas polling stations at all. He said two OSCE observers already have been meeting with state and county elections officials in Texas to learn about the structural components of the process, like how voters are registered. He said they're also interested in issues like campaign finance and have met with both Democrats and Republicans.
Among Abbott's concerns in his original letter to Everts was the group's contact with Project Vote, which has challenged voter registrations laws in Texas and advocates against voter ID initiatives.
The Texas Legislature last year passed a voter ID law that would have required voters to show photo identification at the polls. But a federal court in August rejected the law, calling it discriminatory to low-income blacks and Hispanics. Abbott has appealed to the Supreme Court.
Everts said OSCE talks with many groups.
"I think it's all misperception and misinformation," Everts said. "He can't associate us with any partisan group in that state. It's unfair. We're above the partisanship."
Lee reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.
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