For the first time ever, international elections experts from the Organization of American States will soon be arriving in the United States to monitor the final campaign sprint to the November elections.
The United Nations-like hemispheric organization will send up to 35 experts, led by former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, to the United States to monitor the electoral process, campaign financing and political inclusion, among other areas.
The decision by the Obama administration to invite the Latin American observers to monitor the presidential election is significant considering the United States’ reputation for paternalism in the hemisphere, where it has long advocated OAS monitoring for other nations, but not for itself.
“It gives the United States a lot more legitimacy when it presses countries like Nicaragua and Venezuela to have international observers,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. “They can’t come back and say, ‘Why don’t we have them for your election?’ ”
Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Juan Gonzalez noted the OAS mission last week when explaining to members of Congress the administration’s efforts to pressure the Nicaraguan government to allow OAS monitors for its November election.
“It’s not like we’re saying, ‘Do what we say, not do what we do,’ ” Gonzalez said. “We’re actually walking the walk in this case.”
When Venezuela rejected monitoring of its parliamentary elections in December, Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Álvarez compared his country’s elections to the practices of the United States.
“There is no OAS electoral mission in the U.S.,” Álvarez said last year. “It’s not needed.”
The State Department’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner said it was important to support the OAS’s work “promoting free and fair elections throughout the region.”
The United States becomes the 27th member of the 34 OAS member states to allow international observers.
There is no shortage of issues to look for when trying to verify the integrity of the U.S. election. GOP candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that the general election may be “rigged” nationwide. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans have long fought over voter ID laws, which require citizens to present some kind of identification at the polls. Advocates say the requirements protect against fraud, but civil rights groups say they discriminate against low-income and minority voters.
Francisco Guerrero, the OAS secretary for strengthening democracy, called the U.S. decision a historic moment and testament to the technical advances the OAS has made and recognition of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s focus on democracy.
“Obviously, it sends a signal of confidence that hadn’t happened in the past,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero said the monitors will be dispatched to every corner of the United States for the Nov. 8 election.
The OAS will pick states to monitor based on geography, population, voting history and whether they allow international observers. Twelve states have statutory language that explicitly prohibits or has been interpreted to prohibit international observers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
Florida does not have any specific regulations.
It’s not the first time the United States has welcomed international observers. The Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe has monitored the elections in the past and will monitor the November elections.
But the OSCE has an automatic invitation under a clause in its charter that requires any member to accept the observation mission, Shifter said. The OAS monitoring is done only by invitation of a member government.
“The point is this is a hemispherical organization in a hemisphere where the United States has had a reputation of being paternalistic,” Shifter said. “It’s one thing to say a European organization sent monitors to the U.S. election. It’s another to say this was done under the auspices of the OAS.”