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Texas threatens to arrest international monitors sent to watch US election

Published time: October 25, 2012 16:07
Edited time: October 25, 2012 22:09
Texas flag

Texas flag

A handful of international election monitors have touched down in the US to swing by polling places next month when voters cast ballots for the president, but officials in the state of Texas have issued them a warning: you’re not welcome.

State Attorney General Greg Abbott has sent a scathing letter to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, threatening to arrest any of the election auditors that have been dispatched to America to ensure that voters won’t be disenfranchised, discriminated against or intimidated when they take to the polls on November 6.

Since the establishment of the OSCE in the 1970s, the organization has strived to ensure that democratic and lawful elections occur across the planet, routinely examining the political climate before voters take to the polls to make sure ballots can be cast fairly and without complications in numerous countries across Europe and North America. The OSCE was recently extended an invitation to come stateside from several domestic group — including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), among others — because of what those organizations call “an unprecedented and sophisticated level of coordination to restrict voting rights in our nation” due largely in part to a number of newly-enacted laws that limit who and how can cast a ballot.

“Recent state-level legislative initiatives to limit early voting and introduce stricter voter identification have become highly polarized,” the OSCE writes in an interim report filed earlier this month. “Democrats are concerned that these would disenfranchise eligible voters, while Republicans believe they are necessary to protect the integrity of the vote.”

In response to the request to look over the American presidential election, the Vienna, Austria-based organization agreed to deploy 44 monitors to the United States earlier this month to watch for any wrongdoing, but those auditors are being told that Texas won’t stand for any interference from abroad.

In a letter sent this week from Attorney General Abbott, the state’s leading lawyer writes, “The OSCE’s representatives are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place,” warning, “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,” Abbott added.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.(AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski)
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.(AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski)

The attorney general also attacked in his letter the mere notion that the OSCE — an United Nations-sanctioned group composed of 56 participation member States across the majority of the northern hemisphere — had any clout when it came to deciding what it considers a fair election.

“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,” Abbott said. “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,” Abbott wrote. “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.”

US Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Florida) echoed that opinion by penning a statement of his own, not attacking the OSCE, however, but instead inexplicably targeting the United Nations.

“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 wrote.

“For years the United Nations has aggressively worked against the best interests of our country and many of our allies. The UN’s actions and intentions toward the United States have been nothing short of reprehensible."

On Tuesday, Texas governor and former Republican Party candidate for president Rick Perry wrote through his Twitter account that any monitors or inspectors from the United Nations would be barred from taking part in anything involving the election process in the Lone Star State, commending the Texas secretary of state for “swift action to clarify the issue.”

Two days later, though, the OSCE fired back by voicing their concern with the state officials’ handling of the very serious issue and expressing “grave concern” over Attorney General Abbott’s threat, Courthouse News reports.

According to the letter sent from the OSCE, Texas's threat "is at odds with the established good co-operation between OSCE/ODIHR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] observers and state authorities across the United States, including Texas."

"Our observers are required to remain strictly impartial and not to intervene in the voting process in any way," OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Director Janez Lenarcic explains in a letter sent to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after the warnings from Texas.

Lenarcic also insisted that OSCE officials “are in the United States to observe these elections, not to interfere in them,” and called the claims from Mr. Abbott and Gov. Perry “groundless.”

Voters in Texas historically elect GOP electorates during the presidential election, and currently Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney is slated to be the expected victor next month according to the most recent polls.