Texas v. the OSCE Election Observers: The Kerfuffle About Nothing

Texas v. the OSCE Election Observers: The Kerfuffle About Nothing

The agonizing close presidential race in the U.S. has made everyone on edge about election day problems at the polls.  This may explain why the State of Texas has decided to pick a fight with the election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), threatening to arrest election observers who interfere with the upcoming November 6 elections.

Texas authorities have threatened to arrest international election observers, prompting a furious response from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“The threat of criminal sanctions against [international] observers is unacceptable,” Janez Lenarčič, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said in a statement. “The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODIHR observers to observe its elections.”

Lawmakers from the group of 56 European and Central Asian nations have been observing U.S. elections since 2002, without incident. Their presence has become a flashpoint this year, however, as Republicans accuse Democrats of voter fraud while Democrats counter that GOP-inspired voter ID laws aim to disenfranchise minority voters.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott further fueled the controversy on Tuesday when he sent a letter to the OSCE warning the organization that its representatives “are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place” and that it “may be a criminal offense for OSCE’s representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place’s entrance.”

As the blog post at the Hill goes on to note, this is a big kerfuffle about nothing. The OSCE observers do not have any special legal status and they have already agreed to follow Texas election law (or any other state’s election law). I should note that Texas is free to do whatever they want with the OSCE monitors, and there is no federal authority that can push them to do anything in particular about the OSCE.   I am not sure why Texas has gotten all hot and bothered by this.

To be sure, Texas authorities might be confused by reports like this one from ABC, which calls the OSCE a “UN affiliate” and links their mission to calls by the NAACP on the U.N. to block voter ID rules (uh, that’s totally wrong).  But while the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) [gotta love that acronym] is here to “assess these elections for compliance with international obligations and standards for democratic elections…” This sounds ominous, until you realize that U.S. commitments to OSCE self-consciously political, and not legal.  That is part of the point of the OSCE. It is a political forum, not a formal legal one.

It is true that the OSCE (which includes very undemocratic states like Kazakstan as members) is hardly in a position to complain too aggressively about U.S. election standards. I suppose it could get ugly in a close election if the OSCE tries to influence the political fight over a recount.  But there are so many existing domestic laws that regulate elections in the U.S. (and forums for litigation) that I am doubtful that the OSCE could add much to what is already going to be a crazy election season here in the U.S.

Europe, General, North America
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How can they observe an election if they’re forbidden to enter the polling place? Whatever happened to a treaty’s taking precedence over state law?


It should also be noted, that OSCE observers will have diplomatic immunity. Arresting them would be… most unfortunate.


[…] Julian Ku writes that although the OSCE is transnational, it is not “U.N.-affiliated,” and notes that […]