If you’ve ever heard something like ‘America is the greatest democratic country in the world’ take heed. While many believe that to be the case, the State Governors of both Iowa and Texas are afraid to put that to the test. They’ve threatened independent election inspectors with Jail. That’s right, the supposed shining beacon of democracy is afraid of scrutiny.
Yes, you read that right, the Governor and Secretary of State for a US state, has threatened to arrest independent election monitors for monitoring perhaps the highest-stakes election of the times.
Earlier this week, State officials from Iowa threatened independent international election monitors with arrest if they attempted to monitor voting in that state next week. On Tuesday, November 6, voters across the US will go to the polls to elect members of the house, Senate, and local elections, but it’s the Presidential race that has been the focus of all attention in recent months.
Nor is Iowa alone. A week earlier, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott made a similar statement about international monitors there. Texas has a long history of voter suppression, and as such is covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring it to get ‘preclearance’ from the Federal Department of Justice, before changing anything voting-related.
In his letter, Abbott states
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.
You do have to wonder what he’s afraid of.
To top it off, he announced it with a tweet
UN poll watchers can’t interfere w/ Texas elections. I’ll bring criminal charges if needed. Official letter posted soon. #comeandtakeit
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) October 23, 2012
Of course, he’s a bit mistaken, as OSCE isn’t a UN org, any more than NATO is. Both are ‘chapter 8 organisations’ but that’s as far as it goes. That didn’t stop the ignorant commenting on the story on various republican news sites talking about attacking, evicting, or going to war with the UN.
Meanwhile, Iowa has it’s own problems. As one of the ‘swing states’ it’s one of the most hotly contested areas of the US, where presidential campaigns and the vast influx of private money enabled by ‘Citizens United’ has led to some amazing expenditure figures.
The electoral college system allocates a number of votes equal to the number of members of congress that state has. Thus every state has at least three (two Senators and a Representative) with California having 55 (two Senators and 53 Representatives). All states except Maine and Nebraska use a winner-takes-all method for assigning their votes. This can lead to situations where the winner of the nationwide popular vote can lose the election. This last happened in 2000)
This video by National Public Radio shows the difference between votes, and the importance of swing states, where the state’s overall preference is not clear-cut.
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But the accusation levelled against international observers – that they will interfere with the election – is a worrying one. It seems people are unwilling to accept that there can be any problems with accountability, and that the US has any problem with democracy and elections. As we’ve seen, this isn’t true. As previously discussed, there are longstanding misconceptions about the type and frequency of voter-fraud in the US.
Iowa, by contrast, upped the stakes somewhat. Iowa’s Secretary of State, in charge of elections in the state, referenced a certain provision of Iowa law, 49.104 which lists the people who can be there, along with 49.105 which says that poll workers can order the arrest of people violating that statute.
Two problems with Secretary Schultz’s assertion.
- There are actually sections of 49.104 that can authorise their attendance.
Part 5 allows for an observer representing any non-party political organisation. It’s hard to see how an international election monitoring organisation could NOT fall under that.
Specifically part 1 allows anyone charged with performing official duties to be there. Independent election monitors could easily fall under that. Unless of course, it’s referring to state defined official duties. However there is a lovely bit of law that nicely covers this
- The Supremacy Clause. Article VI, clause 2 of the US Constitution states “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”
In short, anything in the US Constitution, or any US treaty, superceeds Iowa law. Guess what? OSCE is formed via a treaty agreement, which includes all members to allow observers from other signatory countries to observe their elections.
And further, if it’s always been illegal, why hasn’t anything been done about it before? OSCE election monitors have been observing US elections since 2002 (after the farce of the 2000 election, where a winner was decided in questionable circumstances. It’s certainly touched off a firestorm, involving the US’ Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton
When discussing this with Amelia Andersdotter (Swedish MEP) last week, she too noted the ability for Schultz to allow the observers under the state law. His flat out refusal to allow that certainly disappointed her.
“It is sad to see the American political institutions react in this way to the election observers. At a time when voter turn-out is sinking, and the trust in democratic institutions is very low they could not possible lose from having more transparency in their process. Unfortunately this will only undermine further the low confidence people (especially the young) have in the democratic system they find themselves in. One would have hoped that the American authorities could have done better.
Amelia is not the only elected official to express distaste over the actions. Russia’s Central Election Commission chief has also decried things, calling the system amongst “the worst in the world”. He does have a point. As both the head of the US party, and PPI, I’ve helped to get parties registered around the world. The requirements for most countries to be recognized as a political party are significantly easier than the US, where each state has their own set of requirements. In fact, most US states have stricter requirements to register a party than most countries. And the US is also one of the few to have a electoral result barrier in order to STAY a party. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that it’s easier for me to register a party in Russia, than it is to register one in Georgia – and I don’t speak Russian!
Meanwhile, these two are not the only states looking to make this a highly contentious election. Ohio, another swing state and the state with the most spent per-person, has made also acted in a way to question the honesty of elections there.
Over the weekend, it was revealed that in many of the counties, voting machines have had a new, untested and uncertified ‘patch’ installed. By bypassing the strict methods used to ensure the integrity of the already-suspect electronic voting machines.
It has led to an FBI investigation, especially as one Cincinnati, Ohio news station ran a piece late last month detailing how easy Hamilton County (considered by many to be a key county in the battleground state) voting machines are to compromise, as well as their ties to Romney supporters and former co-workers.
I’ve been friends with a volunteer in Obamas’ Hamilton, Ohio org. for about 15 years
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This is after the state had lost a lawsuit over restricting early voting to just the military (who tend to be republican voters) over the last few days. Despite being told it was designed solely to give preferential voting status to certain classes of citizens, they charged ahead saying it was to ‘help the military. However, the change in law didn’t give the military anything new; it just took it away from non-military voters. Especially those that don’t have jobs that allow people time to vote on Tuesday. As a result instead of stopping voting entirely, the hours are just significantly cut. And to cap it all, this past weekend has seen an emergency order issued which may invalidate a large number of early votes, in a manner that may not be in accord with state law.
The final result is, with two of the key battleground states actively performing in an anti-democratic (some might say Anti-American) way, any sort of legitimacy the US hopes to have in terms of democratic agendas and integrity is out the window, especially as its officers of one of the two major parties behind it.
If the US wants to be taken seriously, it needs to crack down on these enemies of democracy, and destroy any ability for any sort of electoral corruption to take hold.