Last updated: October 26, 2012
First published: October 26, 2012
Article written by David M. White
In a country that seems to be able to politicize anything and everything – including where you get your morning coffee and doughnut/pastry – the month of October leading into a November general (Presidential) election is a veritable tsunami of slung mud in the search for the biggest anti-“October Surprise”. One of the latest attempts has been several versions of photos depicting blue hatted UN troops in combat regalia milling about outside what might presumably be a local polling precinct, accompanied by a caption stating that United Nations troops are being brought into the US to monitor the 06 November 2012 elections – the clear implication being that they are being brought in at the bequest of the Obama administration to ensure his re-election. While there will be international observers at a number of US polling locations, they are not troops, they are not from the UN, and their invitation is based on the participation of the US in the creation of an international organization focused on the preservation and promotion of human rights and democracy.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is “the world's largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization. Its mandate includes issues such as arms control and the promotion of human rights, freedom of the press and fair elections.” It is considered a ‘regional organization’ by the UN – another regional organization recognized by the UN is NATO. OSCE is no more under the authority of the UN than is NATO.
The ‘charter’ of OSCE is a document created and signed in 1990 in Copenhagen, when the organization was being formed as the Conference of Security and Co-operation in Europe. In signing that document, the United States agreed that “The participating States consider that the presence of observers, both foreign and domestic, can enhance the electoral process for States in which elections are taking place. They therefore invite observers from any other CSCE participating States and any appropriate private institutions and organizations who may wish to do so to observe the course of their national election proceedings, to the extent permitted by law. They will also endeavour to facilitate similar access for election proceedings held below the national level. Such observers will undertake not to interfere in the electoral proceedings.”
Soon after OSCE announced it would once again be sending observers to the US to observe elections, the reactions of some apparently less than well informed, if not entirely politically motivated, individuals ranged from simple outrage to actual threats of arrest. The response from OSCE has been just as blunt, and the situation has garnered national attention.
Considering this is far from the first time OSCE observers have been present in a US polling place, why the hue and cry now? Why was there no pushback in 2002 when they were invited by Bush? Or 2004 or 2006 or 2008 or 2010?
Maybe because the observers actually look like this:
Now – aside from the politicization aspect…. The author has worked as an election official for 20 years in his state, and has his own opinions on the function and value of poll watchers. If the polling location is run properly, and the poll watchers do not themselves create a hindrance or otherwise impede the process, then the poll officials (or voters) should have no concerns. However, in my state, such an observer would have to arrive at the polling location with a certificate signed by either the candidate he/she is representing or the local political party office. Otherwise they would be required to conduct their observations from outside a 30 ft. perimeter from the doors to the voting place. So does the Texas AG have grounds on which to bar an international observer from a polling place? In a nutshell, Yes. In Texas, one of the qualifications for a poll watcher is that the individual must be a registered voter in the county they are observing in for a general election. One other violation of Texas code noted in the photo above is that the observer is wearing a nametag. (Yes, seriously). And in Texas the perimeter around the polling place would be 100 feet. Resolution of that issue will be the responsibility of the Texas Secretary of State and US Sec. State Clinton.