Greg Abbott, the Republican Attorney General of Texas, issued a stern warning this week to members of an international delegation expected to be on hand to monitor voting at polling places around the country on Election Day.
In a letter to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which works to ensure the integrity of elections, among other tasks, Abbott warned the diplomatic poll-watchers that their involvement in U.S. elections could have strong legal repercussions.
"It may be a criminal offense for OSCE's representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place's entrance," he writes. "Failure to comply with these requirements could subject the OSCE's representatives to criminal prosecution for violating state law." Such a restriction makes election monitoring highly difficult.
The OSCE announced earlier this month that it would send 44 observers to polling places around the country on Election Day in order to monitor possible disputes that could arise in the voting process. The move came in response to a petition from liberal-leaning voting rights groups, including the NAACP and ACLU, that suggested the OSCE's presence could help combat what they fear will be a concerted effort to suppress votes from supporters of President Barack Obama.
Concerns among Democrats have mounted in the wake of reports that right-leaning groups, such as the Tea Party-aligned True The Vote, had plans to dispatch armies of poll-watchers seeking to root out invalid votes. Opponents warn that the volunteer "poll challengers" will engage in intimidation of legitimate minority voters who tend to vote Democratic.
In his letter, Abbott takes issue with the OSCE's supposed opposition to voter ID laws, which won't be in place in Texas after being rejected by a federal court, and adds that the group's efforts at polling places are neither needed nor acceptable.
"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," he writes. "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."
Abbott's opposition is consistent with a growing trend of conservative distrust toward the United Nations and other international organizations. On Tuesday, Florida GOP Senate candidate Connie Mack said that the U.N. should be defunded and "kicked off of American soil." In a statement, Mack appeared to suggest that the broader U.N., and therefore presumably the OSCE as well, was driven by nefarious motives.
“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," he said.
UPDATE: 3:10 p.m. EST -- Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), responded in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying that Abbott's threat put the state of Texas at odds with an agreement between the body and state authorities.
“The threat of criminal sanctions against OSCE/ODIHR observers is unacceptable,” Lenarčič said. “The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODIHR observers to observe its elections.”
Lenarčič took issue with insinuations that officials in the group would meddle with elections, reiterating that they were bound by national laws and regulations, as well as their own strict code of conduct.
“Our observers are required to remain strictly impartial and not to intervene in the voting process in any way,” Lenarčič said. “They are in the United States to observe these elections, not to interfere in them.”
A release relaying Lenarčič's comments pointed out that the OSCE has observed five previous U.S. elections since 2002, all without incident.
CORRECTION: This article originally reported that the OSCE was created by the United Nations. While the OSCE and UN partner on some operations, they are independent organizations.
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