Watching the Vote

The international community, through a number of organizations, regularly observes elections in countries around the world.  Election observation is one method of preventing election disputes from evolving into violent conflict, particularly in countries with less developed or less trusted judicial systems.  The hope is that election observation by neutral outsiders will provide a peaceful forum for election related disputes as these observers evaluate how well the election did, or did not, comply with international standards.  And, many election observers will say that they think that their presence at polling places, simply watching (never talking or interfering) can have a calming effect and has helped to prevent abuses and violations.

I spent a total of five years working for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which, among other things, is the leading election observation organization in the world.  In the OSCE’s early years of election observation, after the end of the Soviet Union, many of the observation missions were centered in newer democracies.  Election observation missions are now also routinely conducted in established democracies, such as the United States.

Unfortunately, at least a few politicians in Texas seem unaware of this history and of the fact that U.S. promotion of election observation has always been non-partisan with both Republicans and Democrats fully supporting such work.  I wrote an op-ed that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is publishing today that is a response to the Texas Attorney General’s recent threats to arrest and prosecute international election observers who are in Texas during the upcoming U.S.  election.

The op-ed is available here

4 thoughts on “Watching the Vote”

  1. I think the most important point you make is that is the United States wishes to support organizations like the OSCE in promoting fair elections on the international community we need to allow and support this organization in monitoring our own elections. One important thing to not is that, as it appears, this is only the Texas Governor not allowing poll observers in. Other places in the United States most likely welcome these observers. Although Texas has a large chunk of the voters in the United States using their polls, this is just a single incident in the states. We should try to just encourage and teach the importance of election observers in all places in the world, including our local polling place.

  2. I must admit at the onset that I do not know very much about election observation and heard it for the first time a few weeks ago. I found the topic very intriguing. I also have to admit however, when I first heard about the possibilities of having election observation officials here in the U.S. I was confused. My immediate reaction was not a positive one. Maybe this is just the doubt coming out in me, but while not only seeming unnecessary, I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of impact this would have if one if these observers was not as peaceful or neutral as one would hope and assume.

    I completely understand and see the need for such an examination of those countries that are more unstable (for lack of a better term) or newly created democracies. This sort of oversight would seem to be very beneficial and almost necessary in these cases.

    A country like the U.S. however, does not appear to fall into either of these two categories. To me, voting is a very private, personal, confidential act. It is also a very unifying act. On Tuesday when we make our way to the voting booths, no matter what party we tend to align ourselves with, the very act of voting itself is what makes our country so great, something to be thankful for.

    Having observers from other countries almost seems to take away this sentiment of American democracy and could even be considered to some, a form of intimidation. Perhaps the reservation lies in the confusion as to why it is needed/wanted. However, if there are conflicts occurring at voting booths that are interfering with one’s right to vote, then maybe this is what we need.

  3. Having gone to undergrad in Ohio during the last election, I heard too much about disenfranchisement to have any thoughts other than cheer when I first heard about OSCE’s observations. Let’s be honest with ourselves America, 2012 may be the first presidential election since 1996 in which there was no significant controversy involving voting rights or fraud. It was not too long ago that the results in Florida changed the direction of our nation with an unexplainable outcome. Only four years later, multiple states had a slew of complaints that African-American citizens had not been allowed to vote. That led many lawyers to set up shop at voting stations around the country in 2008, but there were still accusations of disenfranchisement. Frankly, I think we need to step down from our high horse and let the OSCE observe as much as they can to make sure that the “greatest nation in the world” can still honestly say it has fair and free elections.

  4. While I hole heartedly agree with the sentiment behind this type of “watch dog” work I cannot stand behind it nor support such work. America is not the world police and shall not try to be so. Yes, it is important to support other nations and help prevent mass hysteria, but we cannot even get our own elections under control let alone help police other’s. The opposite of love is indifference, but not control. Education is the key to solving the problems with rigged/greed driven elections.

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