BOSTON — The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is an international election-monitoring group that for decades has stood up to harsh regimes and violence in places such as Belarus and Kazakhstan in the name of free speech and democracy.
More recently, however, the OSCE has found itself fighting a new battle, this time in the United States — or, perhaps more colloquially, the OSCE has been made acutely aware of what happens when one "messes with Texas."
The 56-member-nation OSCE, which has a history of strong support from the US government, has an admirable record of helping ensure clean elections in Europe and Central Asia since the end of the Cold War. Moreover, they have impartially observed five elections in the US since 2002 without incident.
But this year, the OSCE has run into some serious resistance in the form of Texas’ attorney general, Greg Abbott, who believes the election-monitoring group’s planned poll watching on Election Day infringes on the Lone Star State’s sovereignty.
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In an Oct. 23 letter to the OSCE, Abbott threatened to prosecute any of its monitors who step within 100 feet of a Texas polling place on Election Day. The threat came in spite of the fact that the US State Department officials earlier this year had invited the monitors to observe the election.
In his letter, Abbott openly accused the group of meeting with and supporting liberal organizations that oppose voter ID laws that he holds dear:
According to a letter that Project Vote and other organizations sent to you, OSCE has identified Voter ID laws as a barrier to the right to vote. That letter urged OSCE to monitor states that have taken steps to protect ballot integrity by enacting Voter ID laws. 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.
The OSCE released 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.
However, in a statement, Janez Lenarcic, director of the OSCE for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), rebuffed claims of any impropriety. “The threat of criminal sanctions against [international] observers is unacceptable," he said. "The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODIHR observers to observe its elections ... They are in the United States to observe these elections, not to interfere in them.”
Firing back yet again, Attorney General Abbott made his message exceedingly clear in a letter written to Secretary of State HIllary Clinton, in which he suggested that it seemed the OSCE was “under the misimpression that the State Department can somehow help its representatives circumvent the Texas Election Code."
Abbott concluded, "The Election Code does not authorize OSCE representatives to enter polling places. If the OSCE does not want to follow Texas law, then perhaps it should send its representatives to another state."
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Abbott does not stand alone. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and former Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, have taken to social media platforms and the radio waves to show their ardent support of Abbott’s position. Huckabee even went as far as to name Greg Abbott one of “Huck’s Heroes”, an honor bestowed by the former governor to those who are deemed “ordinary people making an extraordinary difference.”
Abbott has also found support in the battleground state of Florida. According to Talking Points Memo, other conservatives like Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL), who is running for the US Senate, have also attacked the international elections monitors.
“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, Chavez, Ahmadinejad and Putin to oversee our elections is nothing short of disgusting,” Mack said in a statement on Monday.
Beyond the fiery back and forth that has gone on among Abbott, his allies, and OSCE officials, Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, reaffirmed that 40 states would next month “proudly host OSCE observers and demonstrate to the world that [US] elections are of the highest standard.” She was quick to cite Texas as being one of the “proud hosts” of the group in 2008, when observers went to San Antonio, and said OSCE officials and Texas were trying to work out their differences.
What will happen in Texas on Election Day? For now, that question remains unanswered.
For those people in Texas who stand firmly behind Abbott, having OSCE officials observe their elections would be considered a great infringement on their civil and state rights.