With elections in Zimbabwe now imminent- regardless of whether they are held before 31 July as ordered by the Constitutional Court or not- the issue of international observers is likely to be brought up again.
President Robert Mugabe and his party have made it clear that they will not accept observers from countries that imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe because they are already biased.
No one seems to the questioning the principle of observers. The controversy seems to be centred on who should come?
Some argue that election observers should come on invitation. Others insist that they must observe all elections, in other words they must be invited to all elections.
But an incident that happened in last year’s elections in the United States, the leader of the Free World, gives a glimpse into what transpired but was never widely reported in our region.
The attorney-general of Texas Greg Abbott warned election observers from Europe that they would have to abide by Texas laws if they came to observe elections in that state.
Here are two letters that AG wrote:
Text of the letter:
October 23, 2012
Ambassador Daan Everts
Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
UI. Miodowa 10
Dear Ambassador Everts:
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will reportedly dispatch election observers to the State of Texas to monitor the November 2012 general election. While it remains unclear exactly what your monitoring is intended to achieve, or precisely what tactics you will use to achieve the proposed monitoring, OSCE has stated publicly that it will visit polling stations on Election Day as part of its monitoring plan.
In April, you reportedly met with a group of organizations that have filed lawsuits challenging election integrity laws enacted by the Texas Legislature. One of those organizations, Project Vote, is closely affiliated with ACORN, which collapsed in disgrace after its role in a widespread voter-registration fraud scheme was uncovered. In September, a federal appeals court rejected Project Vote’s challenge to the State’s voter-registration regulations and allowed Texas to continue enforcing laws that were enacted to protect the integrity of the voter-registration process.
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.
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. This State has robust election laws that were carefully crafted to protect the integrity of our election system. All persons—including persons connected with OSCE—are required to comply with these laws.
Elections and election observation are regulated by state law. The Texas Election Code governs anyone who participates in Texas elections—including representatives of the OSCE. The OSCE’s representatives are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place. It may be a criminal offense for OSCE’s 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 for violating state law.
Attorney General of Texas
Abbott also wrote to the State department that election observers could not circumvent Texas law.
Text of the letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
October 25, 2012
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Madam Secretary:
Yesterday you received a letter from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) asking that the U.S. Department of State take steps to ensure the OSCE’s election observers are not “restrained in their activities” while in the State of Texas. It appears that OSCE is under the misimpression that the State Department can somehow help its representatives circumvent the Texas Election Code. Texas law prohibits unauthorized persons from entering a polling place—or loitering within 100 feet of a polling place’s entrance—on Election Day. OSCE monitors are expected to follow that law like everyone else.
As you know, Texas election laws govern anyone who participates in Texas elections. The fact that representatives of the United States joined the U.S.S.R, Yugoslavia, Romania, and other OSCE member-nations in signing a document at a 1989 conference in Copenhagen has absolutely no bearing on the administration of elections or laws governing elections in the State of Texas. Yet the OSCE invokes the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document to seek your help ensuring that its representatives are not “restrained” by Texas law. If the OSCE wishes to visit Texas during election season, we welcome the opportunity to educate its representatives about the State’s electoral process. But OSCE is not above the law and its representatives must at all times comply with Texas law when they are present in this state.
While the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document cited in the OSCE letter is legally irrelevant and will have no impact on the State’s administration of the November elections, for the sake of accuracy you should know that the letter misconstrues OSCE’s own governing documents. Indeed, the OSCE claims that requiring its representatives to comply with Texas law somehow contravenes paragraph 8 of the Copenhagen document. That is false.
In fact, paragraph 8 specifically stipulates that OSCE representatives may only observe elections “to the extent allowed by law.” As you know, in the United States that means both state and federal law. The OSCE’s letter states only that its observers are committed to compliance “with all national laws and regulations.” This statement may simply reveal that the OSCE is unfamiliar with our nation’s federalist system. On the other hand, it may reveal that the OSCE does not consider itself restrained by state law. Texas needs OSCE’s assurance that its representatives will abide by Texas law when they are present in this state. We have not received that assurance.
In addition to my desire to defend and enforce Texas election laws, I am also concerned that an unnecessary political agenda may have infected OSCE’s election monitoring activities. The OSCE has published policy recommendations and other reports that raise objections to state laws that prohibit convicted felons from voting, prevent voter registration fraud, and require voters to present a photo identification at the polling place. The OSCE may object to photo identification laws and prohibitions on felons voting—but our nation’s Supreme Court has upheld both laws as entirely consistent with the U.S. Constitution. And perhaps ironically, the OSCE representative leading the mission to the United States hails from the Netherlands, which has a photo identification law for voters. According to the Dutch government’s official website: “checking identity documents helps fight fraud.” Why the OSCE appears to now question voter identification laws in the United States is beyond reason. Perhaps it is just politics. Regardless, the OSCE’s perspective on Voter ID is legally irrelevant in the United States.
Indeed, contrary to the principles of “political pluralism” articulated in the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document, the OSCE has recently coordinated with a number of plainly partisan organizations in the United States. This appears to reflect a concerted effort to politicize an initiative that was previously perceived as an international information exchange program. While Texas may welcome visitors from any nation or international organization who wish to learn more about the steps the State has taken to protect the integrity of state elections, we need not open our doors and accommodate an international effort affiliated with partisan organizations in the United States that wish to suppress electoral integrity.
The case in point is OSCE’s coordination with Project Vote, an overtly partisan organization that was founded by and closely affiliated with ACORN. As you know, ACORN collapsed in the wake of a national voter registration fraud scandal that resulted in multiple criminal prosecutions for violations of state and federal election laws. Just this week, Project Vote boasted that it was advising OSCE on which issues to study—and which states to monitor—this election cycle. In light of Project Vote’s history of voter registration fraud and its more recent failed attempt to enjoin Texas election laws that were enacted to prevent fraud, no legitimate international body would affiliate with Project Vote. Consequently, OSCE’s affiliation with this dubious organization necessarily undermines its credibility and the independence of its election monitors.
Rather than work closely with domestic partisan organizations to advance their shared political agenda, the OSCE should consult the report that President Jimmy Carter and Secretary of State James Baker issued as co-chairmen of the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform. As you know, President Carter is one of the world’s most well-known election monitors. Given President Carter’s experience in this area, it is noteworthy that the report he authored found: “The electoral system cannot inspire confidence if no safeguards exist to deter and detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters.” Apparently the Netherlands agrees with that assessment, which is why the Dutch government similarly requires voters to present a photo identification before casting their ballots.
The United States Constitution authorizes the States to regulate the conduct of state and federal elections within their borders. In Texas, the Legislature has exercised its prerogative to implement laws that preclude felons from voting, prevent groups like Project Vote from questionable voter registration activities, and instill confidence in the electoral system by requiring voters to present a photo identification. While we welcome international visitors who wish to engage in a legitimate information exchange, we have no interest in being lectured by the OSCE about how best to conduct the State of Texas’ business.
Unlike the unelected bureaucrats at the OSCE, our State’s leaders and decision-makers were duly elected by Texas voters. Elected members of the Texas Legislature enacted the Texas Election Code to ensure our State’s elections are free, fair, open, and reliable. The Election Code does not authorize OSCE’s representatives to enter the polling place and nothing in a document that may govern the OSCE’s conduct has any impact—legal or otherwise—on the conduct of elections in the State of Texas. If the OSCE does not wish to follow the laws that govern everyone else present in the State of Texas, including the voters who elect our State’s leaders, then perhaps it should dispatch its representatives to another state.
In closing, I have a simple request: Please work with the OSCE to ensure they agree to comply with Texas law. If they refuse to do so, OSCE’s representatives may be subject to legal consequences associated with any violations of state law.
Attorney General of Texas