Texas sparks international row with election observers

Texas authorities have threatened to arrest international election observers, prompting a furious response from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“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.”

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Lawmakers from the group of 56 European and Central Asian nations have been observing U.S. elections since 2002, without incident. 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.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott further fueled the controversy on Tuesday when he sent a letter to the OSCE warning the organization that 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.”


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The letter goes on to accuse the group of having met with liberal organizations that oppose Voter ID laws. The OSCE put out an interim report last week saying that “recent state-level legislative initiatives to  limit early voting and introduce stricter voter identification have become highly polarized.”

“The OSCE may be entitled to its opinions about Voter ID laws, but your opinion is legally irrelevant in the United States, where the Supreme Court has already determined that Voter ID laws are constitutional,” Abbott wrote. “If OSCE members want to learn more about our election processes so they can improve their own democratic systems, we welcome the opportunity to discuss the measures Texas has implemented to protect the integrity of elections. However, groups and individuals from outside the United States are not allowed to influence or interfere with the election process in Texas.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) also weighed in, tweeting “No UN monitors/inspectors will be part of any TX election process; I commend @Txsecofstate for swift action to clarify issue.”

In letters to Abbott and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose State Department invited the 44 election observers, Lenarčič reiterated that the group is only there to observe the elections.

“Our observers are required to remain strictly impartial and not to intervene in the voting process in any way,” Lenarčič said in a statement. “They 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 during her briefing Thursday. 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 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. "To my knowledge [Texas] is the only state that came forward and said 'please reassure us that you're going to follow our state electoral law.' And they have now been reassured."