Foreign Election Monitors Unhappy About 13 States’ Ban on International Observers

By Patrick Goodenough | October 27, 2016 | 3:54 AM EDT

A voter casts her ballot in a booth on November 4, 2014, in Thornton, Colorado. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)

(CNSNews.com) – As it prepares to observe the November 8 elections, an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission already in the U.S. drew attention on Wednesday to the fact that 13 states explicitly forbid international election observation.

That prohibition, it said, ran contrary to the “requirements” set down in a 1990 document drawn up by the OSCE’s precursor, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

“Election observer access is determined by the state or county,” the mission said in an interim report. “Eight states explicitly allow for international election observation while thirteen states explicitly forbid it which is not in line with the requirements of paragraph 8 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document.”

In fact, the document which the report refers to does implicitly acknowledge the fact that laws in some of the “participating states” making up what was then known as the CSCE – today’s OSCE – may not allow outside observation.

It says that observers from other participating states are invited to observe national elections, “to the extent permitted by law.”

The U.S. states that prohibit international election observation are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

(Four years ago, the Texas’ Attorney-General warned the OSCE that any observer who approaches a polling station in the state could be prosecuted.)

Another eight states have laws that explicitly allow foreign observers to be present at polling stations on election day – California, Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota and Washington.

For the most part, however, states do not regulate the matter, but leave the decision on admitting both international or American observers to the discretion of state or county election officials.

The OSCE comprises 57 countries from Europe, North America and Asia, has its secretariat in Vienna, and is focused on human rights and security.

Its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has observed more than 150 elections across those participating countries since 1995, and has been invited by the federal government to observe elections in the U.S. since 2002.

The current OSCE/ODIHR mission comprises a 12-strong core team plus 26 long-term observers who have been on the ground since October 11.

Another 400 short-term observers are expected to arrive for Election Day – making the 2016 OSCE/ODIHR mission more than ten times bigger than the one that observed the last presidential election in 2012.

Four years ago, the observers included individuals from several countries whose political systems and record on civil liberties have earned them grades of “not free” or “party free” by the veteran Washington-based non-governmental organization, Freedom House.

(The “not free” countries represented in the 2012 mission were Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, while the “partly free” countries were Albania, Armenia, Bosnia, Georgia, Macedonia and Ukraine.)

The nationalities of the 400 short-term observers expected this time have not been announced. The 26 long-term observers all come from free democracies – Germany, France, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and Finland – apart from one from Bosnia, a country ranked “partly free” by Freedom House.

The interim report released by the OSCE/ODIHR mission touches on everything from controversies over voter-ID laws to campaign finance. Mostly it does not pass judgments, but points out where “interlocutors” – institutions, parties and civil society groups with which it has been consulting – have raised concerns:

Felons, voter ID

“An estimated 5.8 million citizens are disenfranchised due to a criminal conviction, including some 2.6 million who have served their sentences,” the report states. “This disproportionately impacts African Americans, as they are overrepresented in the penitentiary system.”

It notes that some states have recently restored the right to vote to convicted criminals, citing measures adopted in Virginia, Maryland and Alabama this year.

Also raised are voter-ID requirements, which the report describes as “a highly-charged issue, divided largely along partisan lines.”

“Several Republican-controlled state legislatures recently implemented laws requiring voters to show identification to vote, aiming to prevent potential impersonation,” it says. “Democrats largely believe this could disenfranchise voters, particularly low-income and minority voters who may experience difficulties in acquiring the prescribed identification.”

In total, 32 states require voters to show ID, and in 16 of those photo ID is obligatory. The other 18 states and the District of Columbia “establish the identity of voters, for example, through asking for personal information or comparing signatures to those on record.”

The OSCE comprises 57 participating states, in North America, Europe and Asia. (Photo: OSCE/Mikhail Evstafiev)

Campaign finance

The report cites Federal Election Commission statistics on campaign contributions, saying that as of the end of September, a total of $678 million had been raised by the campaigns of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Republican nominee Donald Trump, and the only other two candidates registered in enough states to be able to win the election, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party.

Of that amount, 67 percent was raised by the Clinton campaign and 32 percent by the Trump campaign.

In congressional races, the GOP had raised more than $726 million and the Democrats more than $650 million, while spending by outside groups – mostly super PACs – had exceeded $1.2 billion, it says.

“Some OSCE/ODIHR EOM [Election Observation Mission] interlocutors have raised concerns that large donations are concentrated in the hands of a few top donors, giving them undue influence over policy and law-making,” the report says.

A ‘rigged’ election?

The report notes that Trump has repeatedly warned supporters that the election could be “rigged.”

“On several occasions he has appealed for his supporters to watch the polls and prevent fraud, raising fears of intimidation on election day.”

For its part, the OSCE/ODIHR mission said state and county level election officials it had observed appeared to be “competent and committed, with many having several years of experience.”

“The election administration at all levels is carrying out their work in a transparent and open manner, with few complaints about preparations.”

The mission did note that online registration systems in Illinois and Arizona had recently suffered hacking attacks and potential data breaches, citing testimony by Election Assistance Commission chairman Thomas Hicks to a House Oversight subcommittee hearing late last month.

Hicks told the panel that while hackers had managed to breach the first level of security in

Arizona and Illinois voter registration lists, “security monitoring and redundancy programs worked and election operations were not adversely affected.”

This month Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that as of October 10, 33 state and 11 county or local election agencies had approached the department for cyber security assistance.

He urged others to do the same.


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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow