The head of an international body that will monitor the U.S. elections next month protested to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday after Texas’ attorney-general warned that any international observer who approaches a polling station in the state risks criminal prosecution.
“The threat of criminal sanctions … is unacceptable,” said Janez Lenarcic, the Slovenian diplomat who heads the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a part of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODIHR observers to observe its elections,” he said in a statement. It added that he “shared his concerns in a letter” to Clinton.
Lenarcic was responding to a letter sent by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to the ODIHR Tuesday informing it that “groups and individuals from outside the United States are not allowed to influence or interfere with the election process in Texas.”
“The OSCE’s representatives are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place,” Abbott wrote. ‘It may be a criminal offense for OSCE’s representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place’s entrance. Failure to comply with these requirements could subject the OSCE’s representatives to criminal prosecution for violating state law.”
Lenarcic’s letter to Clinton is the latest development in a simmering controversy over an OSCE/ODIHR mission that aims to assess the November 6 vote “for compliance with international obligations and standards for democratic elections.”
As reported earlier, the mission includes observers from several non-democratic countries that are members of the OSCE, including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. More than a quarter – 12 of a total 44 observers – come from countries assessed by Freedom House as either “not free” or “partly free.”