As concerns mount over integrity of US elections, so does support for international poll monitors

With the United States presidential election approaching, Americans face a daunting set of challenges as they prepare to vote.

Many voters fear the coronavirus will force them to risk their lives at the polls. Yes, voting by mail represents a safe alternative. But President Donald Trump opposes additional funding for the United States Postal Service, and the agency has warned 46 states that mail-in voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots.

Past presidential elections and recent caucuses provide even more cause for concern: Rickety voting systems risk changing election results.

When faced with potential problems at the polls, other countries invite international observers to help monitor elections. Just recently, Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago and Montenegro have welcomed observers.

As a political science professor who writes about electoral politics and has observed elections in other countries, I’ve seen international observers promote faith and integrity in foreign elections.


Should an international organization monitor US elections in November for fraud? The public seems to think so, even amid a pandemic.

International observers in US elections

Election observers typically monitor the entire election process – not just Election Day. They examine candidate registration, observe the opening of polling stations and help count ballots, for example. But they do not have the power to stop questionable activity, only to report it.

The US often supports international election monitoring in other countries through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization of American States. Election observers with these groups ensure electoral integrity and observe voting procedures for potential fraud.

International observers are no strangers to US elections – they have monitored at least seven of them since 2002.

While the Republican and Democratic parties routinely recruit volunteers to monitor polls, election experts say it’s crucial that nonpartisan observers are present to ensure that observation does not devolve into voter intimidation.

Since US elections are run by the states, states decide whether or not to permit international election observers. Several of them – California, Missouri, New Mexico and Washington, D.C. – have laws that allow for international observers. Additionally, Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia have laws that allow election observers that could apply to international monitors.

But most other states do not welcome international observers. The practice is explicitly prohibited by statutes in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. All other states have been silent about international observation missions.

An international observer with Fair Elections International speaks to the media in Miami, Florida, on Nov. 2, 2004. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

During the 2018 midterm elections, election officials in Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia refused to meet with international observers before the elections, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. That organization’s report said that Indiana officials, for example, informed its observation mission that observers “were not welcome in the state at all.”

Strong public support

Polls show that Americans are highly engaged in the November election – more so than in previous contests. But nearly half of them – Republicans and Democrats – expect to encounter problems at the polls. The coronavirus, malfunctioning voting machines and uncounted mail-in ballots represent just a few concerns.

While many states do not support election observers, evidence suggests the public largely does. With the International Public Opinion Lab at Western Kentucky University, we conducted a web survey in July of 1,027 Americans across the country. We asked them if their state should allow an international, independent organization to observe the November elections to identify potential fraud.

Our survey found broad public support for international election observers. More than 70% agreed or strongly agreed to allow observers, with Democrats more supportive than Republicans – 77.2% and 65.3%, respectively. We found similarly high support between those preferring Joe Biden, 74.2%, and those preferring Donald Trump, 65.2%.

We also found that respondents concerned about contracting Covid-19 were more likely to support election observers, regardless of party affiliation. This is perhaps linked to concerns about their ballots being counted if voters cannot go to the polls on election day and instead vote by mail.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic throws a wrench in the typical electoral observation mission. How will observers monitor large-scale mail-in voting? Will they monitor early voting or just polling stations on Election Day? Will states require international election observers to arrive early and quarantine?

Establishing credibility

Covid-19-related obstacles to voting – reduced number of polling stations and trouble recruiting polling station workers, as well as concerns about health risks from voting in person – will likely decrease trust in the 2020 election and potentially affect the results, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. That is why the group is calling for 500 international observers.

To encourage broad public confidence in the electoral process, state officials could invite international organizations to conduct observation missions, as many other countries do. This would help establish the credibility of election results and demonstrate a commitment to voter concerns.

In their invitation, state leaders could outline the safety measures they will take to minimize Covid-19 risks for voters, poll workers and election observers. They could also request clear guidance from international observers on how to monitor mail-in ballots and early voting.

The pandemic will challenge international observation missions, but ensuring fair elections in an essential component of American democracy. And international monitors have shown they can provide an effective means to reduce public concerns about fraud and voter suppression.

Maggie Sullivan and Mallory Treece Wagner contributed to this report and the original survey questions.

Timothy Rich, Associate Professor of Political Science, Western Kentucky University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

A colossus with feet of clay

South Africa is disproportionately targeted by cybercriminals. Digital attacks call for digital solutions and technology is a the prime weapon in this fight

Journey through anxious Joburg

A new book has collected writing about the condition of living, yes, with a high crime rate, but also other, more pervasive existential urban stresses particular to the Global South

China’s resource-for-infrastructure deals

Are RFIs a viable model for aiding Africa’s economic development?

Football legend Maradona dies

The Argentinian icon died at his home on Wednesday, two weeks after having surgery on a blood clot in his brain

Covid vaccines: Hope balanced with caution

As Covid vaccines near the manufacturing stage, a look at two polio vaccines provides valuable historical insights

Under cover of Covid, Uganda targets LGBTQ+ shelter

Pandemic rules were used to justify a violent raid on a homeless shelter in Uganda, but a group of victims is pursuing a criminal case against the perpetrators
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

CR17 report is not perfect, but the investigation was rational,...

So says public protector Busisiwe Mkwhebane’s lawyer, who said she had reason to suspect the money was being laundered through the campaign

‘We struggle for water, but power stations and coal mines...

A proposed pipeline will bring water polluted with Gauteng’s sewage to the Waterberg in Limpopo to boost the coal industry during the climate crisis

Journey through anxious Joburg

A new book has collected writing about the condition of living, yes, with a high crime rate, but also other, more pervasive existential urban stresses particular to the Global South

Football legend Maradona dies

The Argentinian icon died at his home on Wednesday, two weeks after having surgery on a blood clot in his brain
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…