Election rigging in the US? An international observer's view


18 October 2016

By Christine Muttonen

Recent days and weeks have seen a remarkable amount of attention paid to the possibility of "election rigging" in the United States.

As an experienced election observer who will be leading the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's election observation mission to the US next month, I have often heard claims of fraud by electoral contestants. But these tend to be in countries emerging from authoritarianism and in post-conflict scenarios; they are somewhat surprising to hear in the world's oldest constitutional republic.

The Department of Homeland Security's assessment that hacked and leaked emails are "intended to interfere with the US election process" come on top of recent comments by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that the election is being "rigged" both by "distorted media" and in polling places.

Credible allegations of fraud must be taken seriously and carefully investigated, as the DHS clearly is. But casual allegations can have a dangerous effect, creating an atmosphere of tension and mistrust.

Of course, as the OSCE has pointed out in its observations over the years, there are a number of legitimate issues regarding the US electoral system that merit attention.

We have previously noted, for example, that the legal framework governing elections is highly decentralized, with many key decisions made at the state and local levels. While the laws are well understood and the elections professionally administered, this decentralized system can result in varied access for both contestants and voters.

There is also the role of big money in US campaigns, which might not necessarily "rig" the elections, but can contribute to inequality in the process, as the OSCE has previously pointed out.

Another issue the OSCE has highlighted relates to the voting rights of felons and ex-felons, who are disenfranchised in many states.

We note that the American political system and courts also continue to grapple with contentious issues such as redistricting and voter identification requirements.

These are some of the real issues that international election observers have highlighted over the years, and we look forward to learning more about developments on these and other matters as we deploy to the US for this important election. The level of transparency in the US is very high, with a vibrant civil society and responsive legal authorities who take seriously and investigate credible allegations of fraud, and we expect the US to once again proudly showcase its electoral system to our observers.

As the United States continues to refine its electoral system -- and as it chooses its next president on November 8 -- OSCE observers will be on hand, as we have been at every US presidential election since 2004, to assess the election for its compliance with certain commitments.

These include equal suffrage for all adult citizens, honest and transparent vote counting, and unimpeded media access for parties and candidates.

As a founding member of the OSCE, the US has agreed not only to these principles for conducting democratic elections, but also to welcoming observers from the other 56 countries of the OSCE.

We hope that our presence and expertise can bring some added transparency and shine additional light on the true state of the US electoral system, especially in light of recent allegations.

Editor's note: Christine Muttonen is a member of the Austrian Parliament and president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. She was appointed by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as special coordinator of the OSCE short-term observer mission to the United States for the November 8 elections. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.



Nat Parry

Head of Communications and Press

Office: +45 33 37 80 55
Mobile: +45 60 10 81 77
Email: [email protected]

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