Now, we need the election monitors

Now, we need the election monitors
© Greg Nash

The United States has a proud tradition of sending monitors to ensure the fairness of elections in foreign countries. Now it is our turn to be monitored.

It is time for us to ask for help.

President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP-led Maricopa County board decries election recount a 'sham' Analysis: Arpaio immigration patrol lawsuit to cost Arizona county at least 2 million Conservatives launch 'anti-cancel culture' advocacy organization MORE should be at the forefront of those doing the asking, since he has worried — so often and so publicly — about the fairness of the November ballot, calling it “the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history.”


Perversely, our president has on more than one occasion encouraged people not only to vote by mail but to double down and vote in person as well. The president is tainting the system by imploring Americans — it seems — to vote twice. That’s not legal.

The core problem is that our elections are governed by state election laws and are typically administered county by county. The result is a chaos of election laws and practices. When state and local issues are at stake, it makes sense for the localities to govern the polls, but when we vote for a president, we vote as Americans, not Californians or Iowans or Mississippians. No state should be permitted to stand in the way.

The most common type of domestic election monitoring comes by way of party poll watchers, who are partisans looking out for the interests of their party. Their presence could be seen as an invitation to voter intimidation: 39 states allow poll watchers to challenge eligibility at the polls; 28 states allow challenges before someone votes. Many, though not all, of these laws are a product of Jim Crow and the effort to disenfranchise Blacks.

The federal government can still send election observers to areas that have historically been charged with racial discrimination, but after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, observers are no longer required nor protected: Local officials can send them away.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) sent observers to 23 states in 2012, but only to five in 2016. In 2019, the House voted to reinstate a clause of the Act requiring federal scrutiny of any new voting laws passed by towns, counties or states with a history of racial discrimination, but the Republican leadership has blocked the law from even being debated in the Senate.


The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been observing U.S. elections since 2002, as a result of Florida’s “hanging chads” in the 2000 presidential vote. In 2012, officials in Texas threatened OSCE observers with arrest. And Trump’s sometime counsel, Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by TikTok - New video of riot unnerves many senators Trump legal switch hints at larger problems Trump, House GOP relationship suddenly deteriorates MORE, promoted the efforts of a right-wing organization that gathered signatures for a petition to keep OSCE monitors out of the election. In 2016 the OSCE sent 426 observers, and it reckons that still more will be necessary this year. Yet while the State Department has given permission to these observers, local election officials still need to grant them access to polling places.

The OSCE is fine, but hardly any American will know what it is, and we can do better.

It is time for the parties, especially the Republicans, to rise above pure partisanship in defense of democracy.

What about a monitoring group chaired by ex-presidents Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterWhy Cheney was toppled, and what it says about the GOP and Trump's claims Pollsters trade group: Biden-Trump surveys most inaccurate in 40 years Obama calls on governments to 'do their part' in increasing global vaccine supply MORE and George W. Bush? (Mr. Carter’s Center in Atlanta, long considered the gold standard in developing protocols for monitoring foreign elections, recently announced its first election initiative in the United States, citing the “erosion” of democracy.)

The monitors should name and shame. If state and local governments are following proper election protocol, why would they object to monitoring by international and domestic groups who have been trained to follow well developed democratic election guidelines? If they did object, they should be called out as probable violators. Why, if our president is concerned about the integrity of our elections, is he not welcoming nonpartisan, professional observers to be involved? Why indeed?

Gregory F. Treverton chaired the U.S. National Intelligence Council from 2014 to January 2017.  He is now professor of the Practice of International Relations and Spatial Sciences at the University of Southern California and chairman of the Global TechnoPolitics Forum. He is the author of numerous books including “Dividing Divided States” (2014), “National Intelligence and Science: Beyond the Great Divide in Analysis and Policy” (2015) and “Intelligence for an Age of Terror” (2011).   

Karen Treverton is former Special Assistant to the President of RAND, and manager of the RAND Terrorism Database.