By Dave Lindorff
(A version of this article first appeared on the website of PressTV)
Tuesday's national election in the US is shaping up to be a bruising affair, with both parties hiring armies of lawyers to fight over likely contentious battles over voter access to polling stations, dealing with long lines that could prevent people from voting after polls officially close, the counting of votes cast, and now, the right of international inspectors from the respected Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the process.
The OSCE, a 56-member international organization (including the U.S.) which routinely sends observers to monitor and oversee elections in countries around the world, has been monitoring US elections since the highly controversial presidential election of 2000, which ended up having the presidential race decided by a split 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. (The OECD was invited to start monitoring US elections in 2004 by none other than President George W. Bush, who was handed the presidency in 2000 by the Supreme Court.) Until this year, its monitors have had no problems doing their job, but this year hard-right officials in at least two states -- Texas and Iowa -- have threatened to have the international observers arrested and criminally charged if they attempt to monitor any polling places in those two states. Other states may join them.
"The OSCE's representatives are not authorized by state law to enter a polling place," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abott, an activist in the right-wing Tea Party movement who is in his first term as the state's top law enforcement officer. "It may be a criminal offense for OSCE representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place's entrance. Failure to comply with these requirements could subject the OSCE's representatives to criminal prosecution."
Abbot's threat to arrest OSCE poll watchers was echoed a few days later by Iowa's secretary of state, Matt Schultz, who warned that any international monitors who came within 300 feet of voting stations in his state would be "criminally prosecuted."
Meanwhile, in Florida, Congressman Connie Mack, the Republican candidate for US senate in that state, playing to widespread antipathy among right-wingers towards the United Nations, which the more fevered among them believe is trying to take over the US, angrily denounced the monitors saying, "The very idea that the United Nations -- the world body dedicated to diminishing America's role in the world -- would be allowed, if not encouraged, to install foreigners sympathetic to the likes of Castro, Cha'vez, Ahmadinejad, and Putin to oversee our elections is nothing short of disgusting." (Mack needs to do his homework: The OSCE is a European-based organization, not a UN organization, and in any case, Cuba, Venezuela and Iran are not members. Only Russia is, and it allows monitors -- including US monitors -- at its elections.)
Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, has fired back an angry letter to the US Department of State and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denouncing the threats. She wrote, "The threat of criminal sanctions against international observers is unacceptable. The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite observers to observe its elections." She added, "Our observers are requested to remain strictly impartial and not to intervene in the voting process in any way. They are in the US to observe the elections, not to interfere in them."