International observers increase trust in US elections

Originally published at The Hill

28 October 2022

By Margareta Cederfelt, Special Co-ordinator of OSCE short-term observer mission to the United States

Two decades after our first deployment of international election observers to the United States, an election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is gearing up for the pivotal midterm elections. Our large delegation of nearly 200 observers demonstrates our strong commitment to helping to increase transparency and build trust in the U.S. electoral system.

Working closely with officials from the U.S. State Department, Congress and state and local election authorities, we intend to fan out across the country for Election Day observation in eight states, plus the District of Columbia. We very much appreciate the collaboration that we have enjoyed with interlocutors, whose commitment to welcoming observers serves as a reminder of the importance of multilateral cooperation, and we look forward to continuing to build on these relationships through Election Day and beyond.

Since 1993, the OSCE has observed hundreds of elections in dozens of countries across the OSCE area – comprising North America, Europe, and Central Asia – and over this period of time we have developed a comprehensive methodology that combines long-term observation provided by the experts of the OSCE Office for Democratic and Human Rights and the political perspective offered by parliamentarians deployed by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. As elected politicians, members of the OSCE PA bring a unique and personal perspective to the process and are particularly sensitive to issues of fairness and ensuring that competitors are provided a level playing field.

Having observed U.S. elections since the early 2000s, the OSCE is generally well-versed in both the political context and the intricacies of U.S. electoral law. We know, however, that there is always more to learn and therefore we eagerly anticipate being briefed in Washington ahead of Election Day by election administrators, stakeholders, experts, pollsters, and journalists to help provide us all the context we need to inform our observation. In doing so, we hope to substantively contribute to building confidence in U.S. elections by providing our perspective and expertise, and bringing a fair but critical eye to assessing the United States electoral system for its adherence to international standards.

Following previous elections, the OSCE has highlighted a number of important issues, including campaign financing and redistricting, and we note that the 2022 midterm elections are the first to take place following the 2020 United States census. In this regard, we will pay close attention to whether any changes have been made in line with OSCE recommendations.

The midterms mark the first national electoral contest after the disputes surrounding Election 2020, which revealed a lack of confidence that some Americans have in their elections. We note that a recent YouGov poll indicated that a quarter of Americans had no confidence that the 2020 presidential election was held fairly, and that heading into the midterms, nearly a third of Americans overall lack trust that the vote will be free and fair.

For a well-established democracy like the United States, which many of us in Europe have long admired as a champion of democratic values, these numbers are a bit startling. It is of course essential in a democracy that citizens have faith in their electoral system and faith that candidates who obtain the necessary number of votes are duly installed in office. This is why when the OSCE observes elections we do not come with pre-conceived notions, nor do we root for one side or the other. Our only concern is that the elections comply with the commitments to which OSCE countries (including the United States) have agreed and that the outcome accurately reflects the will of the people.

One of the aspects of elections in the U.S. that make it different than most of our countries is the highly decentralized nature of election administration, which relies heavily on authorities at the state and local levels. Two years ago, we were impressed by the level of commitment that we saw from these election workers who selflessly fulfilled their duties in the midst of a pandemic to ensure that Americans could exercise their democratic right to choose their leaders.

Instead of being celebrated, however, in too many instances election officials appear to have borne the brunt of baseless complaints of widespread electoral fraud, leading many to step down. Following a two-year-long campaign of harassment of election workers there now seems to be a shortage in some parts of the country, which poses a new set of challenges for administering elections.

We applaud the continued efforts of federal, state, and local governments that have offered support to election administrators, and we urge continued attention at all levels to increasing the protection and security for these unsung heroes. To boost the level of trust in elections, it is essential that election workers feel safe to do their job, and toward this end, it is important that all threats are taken seriously.

Increasing trust in elections also requires a high level of transparency and accountability, and this is where observers come in. The OSCE is happy to join thousands of domestic observers from civil society and the federal government who will participate on Election Day to contribute to transparency and help increase trust by voters and candidates alike.

Margareta Cederfelt, a member of parliament from Sweden, is President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. She has been appointed by OSCE Chair-in-Office and Foreign Minister of Poland Zbigniew Rau to lead the OSCE short-term observer mission to the United States.



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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