Update: Int’l Election Observer Suspended After Tweeting Support for Clinton

By Patrick Goodenough | November 8, 2016 | 4:17 AM EST

The OSCE comprises 57 countries spanning Europe, North America and Central Asia. (AP Photo, File)

(Update: The OSCE PA says it has dismissed the observer who tweeted his support for Hillary Clinton.  “I was informed that someone affiliated with our team had expressed on Twitter his personal political preference for a candidate in the elections we are observing,” the head of the observer mission said in a statement. “This is in clear contravention of our observer code of conduct. We take our independence very seriously. As a result, I have dismissed him and he will no longer be observing as a part of our mission.”)

 

(CNSNews.com) – As hundreds of international observers from dozens of countries fan across the nation ahead of Tuesday’s election, their behavior is governed by their own organizations’ codes of conduct, which call for “strict impartiality.”

That message did not appear to have reached everyone, however.

One Greek national, a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) observer mission, posted a tweet on Monday that made his political preference clear.

Panagiotis Arkoumaneas retweeted a Politico post about FBI Director James Comey’s recent determination on Hillary Clinton’s private server emails, then added his own message: “This should give a final boost to Hillary’s campaign. Great news.”

In an earlier tweet, Arkoumaneas had posted a photo of his election observation mission accreditation card.

OSCE PA election observer Panagiotis Arkoumaneas posted a photo of his accreditation card on Sunday, and then on Monday tweeted this message supportive of Hillary Clinton. (Images: Twitter)

All election observers attached to the OSCE PA – like those with a separate OSCE mission, overseen by its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) – are expected to comply with an OSCE observers’ code of conduct.

The first clause of the code reads: “Observers will maintain strict impartiality in the conduct of their duties and will, at no time, publicly express or exhibit any bias or preference in relation to national authorities, parties, candidates, or with reference to any issues in contention in the election process.”

A spokesman for the OSCE PA confirmed that Arkoumaneas is a staff member with the Greek delegation to the OSCE PA election observation mission.

The spokesman said the mission would “take a look at the tweets in question and take appropriate action based on the code of conduct that Mr. Arkoumaneas has signed.”

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is an organization comprising 323 members of national parliaments from the 57 countries (“participating states”) making up the OSCE, spanning Europe, North America and Central Asia.

According to the spokesman, 90 observers from 29 participating states are participating in the OSCE PA observation mission, along with 17 staff. They are being deployed in New Mexico, North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, New York, Florida, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

The majority of the 29 countries they hail from are free democracies, although three of them – Albania, Turkey and Ukraine – are rated “partly free” by the Washington-based democracy watchdog, Freedom House.

The OSCE PA mission, like the separate OSCE/ODIHR one, was invited to observe the elections by the State Department.

The OSCE code of conduct for election observers includes an impartiality pledge. (Image: OSCE)

“The United States greatly values the OSCE’s important work promoting free and fair elections throughout the OSCE region,” U.S. ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer told the organization’s permanent council in Vienna last March.

“We welcome OSCE observation as an opportunity to demonstrate the United States’ dedication to fulfilling our OSCE commitments.”

The organization observes countries’ elections based on a 1990 document that says observers from other participating states are invited to observe national elections, “to the extent permitted by law.”

The separate OSCE/ODIHR observation mission comprises 11 core group members, 26 long-term observers who have been on the ground since October 11, and several hundred short-term observers, who were deployed last weekend and will observe voting in 30 states across the country on Tuesday.

Thirteen states explicitly prohibit international observers: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

An ODIHR spokesman on Monday listed several additional states where the observers will also not go – Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin.

An earlier “needs assessment” visit called for 400 short-term observers – which would have made the 2016 ODIHR mission ten times bigger than the 44-strong one sent to the U.S. in 2012.

But the ODIHR spokesman said the eventual total number – including short-term, long-term and core team members – stands at “more than 300.”

He explained that ultimately the numbers depend on the participating states, “as it is up to them to send the observers based on the requests identified” in the “needs assessment” report.

Qualified to judge?

This year’s ODIHR “needs assessment” report recommended such a large number of observers because the organization felt the 2016 American election merits a “full-scale” observation mission, while in 2012 it believed a “limited” election observation mission was sufficient.

A full-scale mission is deployed in cases where “there is limited confidence among election stakeholders in the election administration, the long-term process and election-day proceedings …”

A limited mission is sent when ODIHR determines “that serious and widespread problems on election day at the polling-station level are unlikely ...”

Four years ago, the mission included observers from several countries whose political systems and civil liberties records have earned them Freedom House grades of “not free” or “party free.”

They included “not free” Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and “partly free” countries were Albania, Armenia, Bosnia, Georgia, Macedonia and Ukraine.

This year the ODIHR has not released in advance a list of nationalities of the short-term observers, although the spokesman said they come from 44 countries. He said the nationalities will be listed in a final report, after the election.

As for the question of whether some countries are qualified to judge a U.S. election, the ODIHR explains in a fact sheet that OSCE participating states include both countries “with long-standing traditions of democratic elections, and others that have only relatively recently begun their transition to democracy.”

It stresses that while the observers are selected by and funded by their respective governments, they do not represent those governments.

“They are thoroughly briefed by ODIHR, are obliged to follow ODIHR’s election observation methodology, and are bound by the ODIHR’s code of conduct for election observers.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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