When news broke last week that the United Nations-affiliated Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was dispatching election observers from 23 nations to the United States, conservative groups went up in arms, claiming that liberal activists had sought international assistance to fight Republican-led voting reform efforts. Soon afterward, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatening the observers with arrest if they got within 100 feet of a polling place and complaining that OSCE officials had met with a group formerly affiliated with ACORN. Yesterday, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who has made voter fraud a central theme of his time in office, followed suit, saying that there would be “no exception” made for OSCE members to enter polling stations.
As a member of the OSCE, the United States has invited outside observers into the country since 2002 without incident. The State Department dismissed Abbott’s complaint, saying that the election observers are simply observers (and would be eligible for immunity if they are arrested). “[T]he mandate of the OSCE is designed to be absolutely and completely impartial, and that’s what we plan on when we participate and that’s what we’d expect here,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the Washington Examiner. The OSCE expressed willingness to meet with both liberal and conservative voter groups and has acknowledged the controversy over GOP-led voter ID efforts in a report released earlier this month.
In any case, any role the OSCE plays on November 6 will probably be minimal. A list of election observers uploaded by conservative attorney J. Christian Adams suggests that only two observers will be in Texas, both in Austin; two others are scheduled to be in Des Moines, Iowa. But the OSCE, which sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling Abbott’s threat of arrest “unacceptable,” also responded to Abbott, saying that it plans to follow state laws and wouldn’t need to enter polling places in order to observe the election. In addition to monitoring potential voter suppression, the OSCE also plans to research campaign finance, new voting technology, and the media. Meanwhile, many more American election monitors will be at polling stations, ranging from impartial observers to labor union members and recruits from a tea party group.