Iowa is second state to forbid international observers at elections

Iowa on Wednesday became the second state to warn international election observers to stay away from its polling sites or face arrest, following Texas.

The 56-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is planning on sending 44 election observers to monitor polls across the country, as it has since 2002. Their presence has become a flashpoint this year, however, as Republicans accuse Democrats of voter fraud while Democrats counter that GOP-inspired voter ID laws aim to disenfranchise minority voters.

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“My office met with two delegation representatives last week to discuss Iowa’s election process and it was explained to them that they are not permitted at the polls,” Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, a Republican, said in a statement. “Iowa law is very specific about who is permitted at polling places, and there is no exception for members of this group.”

The statement comes after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sparked the OSCE's ire last week when he sent the group a letter saying its representatives “are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place” and that it “may be a criminal offense for OSCE’s representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place's entrance.”

The letter prompted a furious response.

“The threat of criminal sanctions against [international] observers is unacceptable,” Janez Lenarčič, the director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said in a statement. “The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODIHR observers to observe its elections.”

He went on to say that the OSCE representatives “are in the United States to observe these elections, not to interfere in them.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland sought to tone down the controversy last week. The department is eager to avoid giving the impression that the United States is unwilling to submit to the same scrutiny it demands of others when it comes to human and civil rights.

“Since the initial issue with Texas we've received a letter, both for Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton and one for Texas authorities, from the OSCE assuring us and Texas authorities that the OSCE observers are committed to following all U.S. laws and regulations as they do in any country where they observe elections and they will do so as well in Texas,” Nuland said.

Here is the full text of Iowa's statement: 

Secretary Schultz Statement on International Election Observers in Iowa

(DES MOINES)—Matt Schultz, Iowa Secretary of State, issued the following statement in response to reports that members of a UN-chartered delegation are being dispatched across the United States, including Iowa, to observe the General Election:

“As Secretary of State, I support the efforts of other nations to learn more about our election process and ways in which they might improve their own election systems. We welcome the four international visitors to our great state.

However, it was reported yesterday that members of this organization are attempting to gain access to Iowa polling places on Election Day. My office met with two delegation representatives last week to discuss Iowa’s election process and it was explained to them that they are not permitted at the polls. Iowa law is very specific about who is permitted at polling places, and there is no exception for members of this group.”

Iowa Code section 49.104 defines the limited number of individuals permitted at polling places on Election Day, and section 49.105 states that poll workers “shall order the arrest” of any persons violating these provisions.

Any election law violations can be reported to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office by calling the Election Hotline at 1-888-SOS-VOTE.