Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is threatening to bring criminal charges against European election observers who may be monitoring the general election process in Texas.
His always-entertaining Twitter feed suggests he would also be willing to throttle them with his bare hands. "UN poll watchers can't interfere w/ Texas elections," he tweeted yesterday. "I'll bring criminal charges if needed. Official letter posted soon." His hashtag added: #comeandtakeit. Delightful.
The target of Abbott's ire is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (who are not "UN poll watchers," although they are observers at the UN General Assembly and give briefings to its security council). Among other things, they observe elections for fairness and transparency in their 56 member nations, of which the U.S. is one. The OSCE has announced it will undertake "a limited election observation mission" in the United States.
"Several areas would benefit from closer attention," the organization wrote in a May report. "Including: redistricting; voting rights, registration, and identification; campaign finance; alternative voting methods; and the conduct of the electoral campaign, particularly in the media."
It's not actually clear if monitors will be placed in Texas, though it seems likely, given our state's enthusiasm for voter ID laws. In a public letter yesterday addressed to the OSCE mission's head, Ambassador Daan Everts, Abbott replied, basically: "Oh, hell no."
"While it remains unclear exactly what your monitoring is intended to achieve, or precisely what tactics you will use to achieve the proposed monitoring, OSCE has stated publicly that it will visit polling stations on Election Day as part of its monitoring plan," Abbott wrote (the full text of the letter is available here .)
Abbott accused the OSCE of meeting with a variety of groups who have filed lawsuits against Voter ID laws. One of those groups, he claimed, was Project Vote, which he criticizes for its work with the discredited and now-defunct ACORN (one of dozens of groups with which Project Vote organized voter registration drives).
In the next breath, Abbott suggests that the monitors aren't needed anyway, since voting laws here have been declared just fine and dandy:
In September, a federal appeals court rejected Project Vote's challenge to the State's voter-registration regulations and allowed Texas to continue enforcing laws that were enacted to protect the integrity of the voter-registration process...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 seems to have forgotten the part where a federal court struck down Texas' voter ID law as discriminatory (Texas is appealing the decision, naturally). He's referring instead to a lawsuit brought by Project Vote over voter registration laws in February. That suit resulted in an emergency injunction against those laws first being granted by a U.S. District Judge in August, then lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court in September. It's also currently on appeal.
Finally, the attorney general adds that OSCE members are welcome to observe Texas elections, if they "want to learn more about our election processes so they can improve their own democratic systems." Otherwise, he adds, "it may be a criminal offense" for the OSCE reps to get within 100 feet of a polling place: "Failure to comply with these requirements could subject the OSCE's representatives to criminal prosecution for violating state law."
According to the Texas Tribune, Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade wrote a less-belligerent letter to the OSCE, asking them to clarify their intentions.
Governor Rick Perry has just gone ahead and declared victory over Europe, tweeting:
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No UN monitors/inspectors will be part of any TX election process; I commend @txsecofstate for swift action to clarify issue.
— Rick Perry (@GovernorPerry) October 23, 2012
We've contacted the OSCE for comment, and will update if we hear back. Meanwhile, the director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, issued a press release calling the threat of criminal sanctions "unacceptable." He added, "The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODIHR observers to observe its elections. "
Lenarčič added that there are no plans to "interfere" with U.S. elections: "Our observers are required to remain strictly impartial and not to intervene in the voting process in any way.They are in the United States to observe these elections, not to interfere in them."