Why Foreign Election Monitors?

Dulles, Virginia — When Americans go to the polls on Election Day, looking over our shoulders and judging the process by which we cast our votes will be foreign election monitors. They’ll be here at the invitation of the State Department to certify for the world the legitimacy of our election. Sadly, there are those in the United States who believe foreign monitors are needed to validate the election result.

There is no country on earth that is in a position to cast judgment on the practice of American democracy. Nonetheless, the red carpet is being rolled out for America’s critics to take part in an exercise that does not concern them. The delegation of monitors will come from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). 

On April 3, 2008, Julie Finley, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, sent an invitation to the organization to monitor the elections to “demonstrate…the United States’ dedication to fulfilling its OSCE commitments.” Those “commitments” refer to a post-Cold War agreement called the Copenhagen Document which says that “the presence of observers, both foreign and domestic, can enhance the electoral process for States in which elections are taking place.”

That may be true in countries where freedom has been a foreign concept, or those in which the transition from dictatorship to democracy is taking place. Such is not the case in America. With the exception of a few areas along our southwest border, we are not a third world country. We have some experience in the peaceful transition of political power. Other than Super Bowl Sunday, Election Day is perhaps the only day of the year in which there is a palpable sense of unity. It is a day when we come together as Americans, despite our political differences, to chart the future of our nation. It should not be intruded upon by outsiders.   

OSCE monitors have examined each presidential and mid-term election in the United States since 2002. During the 2004 contest, OSCE personnel monitored polling places in California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. They were also present in the battleground states of Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and Ohio.  

For four days in June this year, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) sent a “Needs Assessment Team” to the U.S. to prepare for their November assignment. They met with representatives from the Departments of State, Justice and Defense, as well as the Federal Election Commission, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Republican and Democratic parties, among others.    

By participating in our elections, the OSCE is engaged in more than just a courtesy call. It is attempting to influence the rules and procedures of our elections. In 2002, the OSCE sent 11 monitors to the U.S. on Election Day. In 2004, they dispatched 92 election supervisors. This year, the OSCE says it will “deploy a core team of election experts,” — unspecified in number — as well as “100 long-term observers to be deployed throughout the country for approximately one month.” 

In its after action report of the 2004 contest, the OSCE complained that “international observers are an unknown concept in U.S. federal and state law.” They urged Congress and the state governments to “ensure unimpeded access to all stages of the election process for international observers,” and “to bring state laws fully in line with the United States’ OSCE commitments.” By doing so, it would make it easier for the OSCE “to comment more fully on the election process.”

But the OSCE is commenting plenty. It urges wider availability of early voting and anointing certain civic organizations to act as domestic election observers. Contrary to U.S. practice, the OSCE has a bias toward centralization of the electoral process at the national level. On certain issues like voter identification laws, the OSCE leans left, suggesting that “voter ID requirements are criticized by some as a modern day poll tax which would be unconstitutional.”  They are also frustrated that the First Amendment has “made it difficult to introduce effective legal limits on campaign spending.” 

Let’s show a little national pride. There is no reason to put U.S. elections to the global test. The Copenhagen Document encourages foreign participation in a process that shapes America’s future. The Germans build a great car, and the French make pretty pastries, but when it comes to conducting free and fair elections, no country does it better than the United States.