International Election Monitors: Good Job, America, Despite Your States

Polling board members in Arlington, Virginia, demonstrate touch screen voting machines to OSCE observers in 2004

Election monitors from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have released their preliminary findings on the U.S. 2012 elections, determining they “took place in a pluralistic environment and were administered in a professional manner.” The monitors — subject of mass hand-wringing by the right-wing — completed their observations despite numerous threats and instances of non-cooperation by state-level officials.

As part of a mission they have undertaken every two years for the past decade, the OSCE observers were spread across the country to study the election process from beginning to end, taking note of the role of campaign spending, how the media influences voting, and the ease in which citizens could access the polls. The observers were not hesitant to point out the ways in which their job was made harder by certain states:

Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the District of Columbia explicitly provide for international election observation, while other states interpreted their laws in a way that permits access or delegated the decision to county officials. In several states OSCE/ODIHR observers were not provided full and unimpeded access to polling stations. In some cases, OSCE/ODIHR observers were publicly threatened with criminal sanctions if they entered polling stations. This is in contravention of paragraphs 8 and 10 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document.

Each of the states listed by the OSCE as acting to impede the monitors’ mission — Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas — have a Republican Secretary of State overseeing the election process. The criminal sanctions noted by the OSCE were not hyperbole, having actually faced the possibility of arrest. Texas Attorney-General and Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schulz both threatened to arrest international observers who entered polling stations.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland roundly dismissed the idea of state officials being able to hold observers, due to the reciprocal protected status granted to Americans during observation missions. The OSCE still did not appreciate the sentiment, as Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a letter.

The report as a whole noted the well-run nature of the election and the competitiveness of the various campaigns, while pointing out that “further steps should be taken to improve the electoral process, in areas such as voting rights, the accuracy of voter lists, campaign finance transparency, recount procedures, and access of international election
observers.” In the midterm elections in 20022006, and 2010, as well as the Presidential elections of 2004and 2008, the OSCE has issued a mostly positive final report on the U.S. elections. The 2012 final report will likely be issued in the next two months.