Conservative blogs and news media are all buzzing about a team of international election monitors coming to observe the presidential elections in November. The observers are arriving at the invitation of the State Department and the behest of a number of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, ACLU, and others.
The latter groups’ call for an international team to keep an eye on the U.S. elections focuses particularly on states that have enacted strict voter I.D. laws and other curtailing of voting rights. An NAACP delegation visited the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland in September to bring attention to the issue. The NAACP’s move, and the idea of foreign presence in the U.S. to observe elections, has infuriated many on the right.
The response at the state-level is varying. Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard is, in protest of the monitors’ presence preparing legislation to have all poll watchers in Alabama hold U.S. citizenship. “It’s bad enough that Alabama remains trapped under the provisions of the Voting Rights Act,” Hubbard said “So we certainly don’t need anyone from the United Nations coming into our state and meddling in our elections, as well.”
Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote appeared on Fox News on Monday claiming that the monitors’ presence was actually intended to prevent and discourage U.S. voters from exercising their rights. Fox’s Megyn Kelly readily agreed, stressing the left-leaning nature of the civil rights groups, seemingly unaware of the State Department’s role in inviting the monitors. It’s worth mentioning that True the Vote, itself a Tea Party group voter suppression effort, is currently under investigation for possible criminal conspiracy. Watch the full interview here:
What none of these commentators mention is that this is neither an unprecedented event nor particularly worrisome. The Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) is a group of over fifty countries in North America, Europe, and Central Asia committed to security and strengthening democracy. Counter to many of the exclamatory statements by the right-wing, the OSCE is not a part of the United Nations, but instead is loosely affiliated with the global organization.
According to the 1990 Copenhagen Document, which the U.S. has signed, all member states of the OSCE are called upon to accept monitors to observe their elections. As a founding member, the U.S. has taken part in dozens of observer missions over the years. In allowing observers into the country, the United States is preventing setting a precedent for other, less democratic states, to ban these monitors. Also, counter to conservatives, the monitors have no mandate to interfere in the elections. In a press release, the OSCE laid out precisely what the mission of the observers actually is:
Observers from 30 countries have been monitoring campaign finance activity and legal changes related to early voting and whether voters must present identification at polling stations. Observers will receive a full set of political and election-related briefings in Washington prior to fanning out across several states to observe election day activity.
“We are not coming to judge a result but to report about the process,” [Joao Soares, (MP, Portugal) who has been appointed to lead the observation mission,] said. “In a country so well known for its diverse citizenry, we will observe how inclusive the election process is in line with the country’s own laws and international election commitments.”
In fact, the OSCE, unknown to many of those panicking today, has had monitors present to observe every national U.S. election for the past decade. Reports have been issued by monitors for the midterm elections in 2002, 2006, and 2010, as well as the Presidential elections of 2004 and 2008. In none of those instances did the presence of monitors affect the outcome or votes cast.