International Election Observers Head to US Polls in Bigger Numbers This Year

One organization is sending 400 election observers across the U.S.

ByABC News
November 5, 2016, 4:39 PM

— -- Americans going to the polls Tuesday may see something they associate more with developing or war-torn countries such as Nicaragua or the Ukraine than the U.S. -- international election monitors.

Two nongovernmental organizations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization of American States, are this year sending election observers to the U.S. either for the first time or in far greater numbers than in the past.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an intergovernmental organization of European states, is set to deploy over 400 observers to the U.S., up from just 57 in the 2012 presidential balloting.

The nearly fourfold increase reflects the need to observe the impact of new state laws on voter registration and voter ID requirements, changes in campaign finance rules and new voting technologies, according to the organization.

The increase in observers also comes after the U.S. Civil and Human Rights Coalition asked the organization in August to “greatly expand” its monitoring in what will be the first presidential election since the Supreme Court in 2013 significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act, a landmark civil rights law passed in 1965.

Justices eliminated the law's requirement that some states and localities with a history of discrimination get approval before changing election rules or practices that could affect minorities. The ruling was followed by a wave of states setting new voting restrictions, including in many cases a requirement that voters present a government-issued photo ID.

“The unprecedented weakening of the Voting Rights Act has led to a tidal wave of voter discrimination efforts nationwide and has required the United States to drastically scale back its own election monitoring program,” the civil rights coalition wrote to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Supreme Court ruling also means that the U.S. Department of Justice will send fewer people than in past presidential elections to monitor polls in real time, although the exact number of U.S. observers has not been released, the Justice Department said in a statement.

But another group, the Organization for American States, is sending observers to the U.S. for the first time. It was invited by the State Department to observe U.S. elections as a way of strengthening respect for its monitors in its other member countries, which include all nations in North and South America, said Gerardo de Icaza Hernandez, director of the OAS' department of electoral cooperation and observation.

Forty-one election observers who come from 18 different countries will observe the U.S. election process in Washington, D.C. and 11 states ranging from Wisconsin to California, Hernandez said.

The 400 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will fan out to 36 states across the country including in the South, West and Midwest.

Audrey Glover, who is heading the electoral mission, said observers simply watch and record what they see at polling places.

“We would not police polling stations, we’re certainly not policemen,” Glover said.

In addition to observing voting and vote tabulation on Election Day, they will look at other election activities such as voter registration, political campaigning activities and media coverage.

On Nov. 9, the organization will release the preliminary findings of its mission.

International organizations will not be the only ones watching the polls on election night.

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has called for supporters to monitor polling places and “make sure it’s on the up and up.”

Nonpartisan U.S. groups devoted to voter access will likewise be observing voting sites to make sure no undue restrictions or burdens are placed on eligible voters trying to cast a ballot.