Officials from Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan Will Watch U.S. Election to Make Sure It's Free and Fair

Patrick Goodenough | October 22, 2012 | 4:32am EDT
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Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev meets with President Obama at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April 2010. (AP Photo/File)

( – When American voters go to the polls next month, among those observing the election will be monitors from four countries judged by the veteran democracy watchdog Freedom House as “not free” and another six it regards as “partly free.”

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers will “assess these elections for compliance with international obligations and standards for democratic elections.”

They will also look into voter-identification and other laws which critics have labeled “racially discriminatory.”

In a recent letter to the head of the OSCE mission, Dutch diplomat Daan Everts, liberal groups decried what they called “a coordinated political effort to disenfranchise millions of Americans – particularly traditionally disenfranchised groups like minorities, low-income people, women, young people, persons with disabilities, and the elderly.”

Everts heads a team deployed by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to monitor the elections at the invitation of the U.S. government.

The mission comprises 13 “international experts” based in Washington and another 44 “long-term observers” in states across the nation to monitor the presidential and congressional elections.

Twelve of the 44 observers come from four countries which Freedom House ranks “not free” – Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan; or from six that are deemed “partly free” – Albania, Armenia, Bosnia, Georgia, Macedonia and Ukraine.

“Observers will assess these elections for compliance with international obligations and standards for democratic elections, including the commitments agreed to by all the OSCE participating states, and with national legislation,” the ODIHR said in a statement.

Observers will meet with relevant federal and state officials, political parties and candidates, and also monitor “a cross section of media outlets, with quantitative and qualitative analysis of their political and election-related coverage.”

“In line with ODIHR’s methodology for limited election observation, the mission will not carry out systematic or comprehensive observation of the voting, counting, and tabulation on election day,” it explained. “Mission members will, however, visit a number of polling stations across the country to follow election day procedures.”

The OSCE has observed U.S. elections since 2002.

In an interim report on Friday, the observer mission stated that “[r]ecent state-level legislative initiatives to limit early voting and introduce stricter voter identification have become highly polarized. Democrats are concerned that these would disenfranchise eligible voters, while Republicans believe they are necessary to protect the integrity of the vote.”

In a letter to Everts on October 12, activist groups including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) urged him to deploy the monitors “in those states where restrictions on voting have been most extensive,” and cited Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

“Poll monitors should be particularly vigilant about requests for, and acceptance of, identification of those seeking to vote, particularly if certain groups, such as racial minorities and young voters, are being targeted,” they wrote.

The signatories, who included Leadership Conference president Wade Henderson and NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous, raised concerns about conservative anti-voter fraud groups that have been mobilizing volunteers as poll-watchers.

“The valuable work of an impartial body like the OSCE in validating the reliability and fairness of our nation’s election systems has proven indispensable over the years,” they told the OSCE official.

“We believe that in this hyper-partisan climate, it is more important than ever that we maintain the integrity of our elections and take the necessary steps to ensure that the right to vote is protected for all Americans – a right for which many have given their lives.”

The appeal to the OSCE follows a NAACP initiative to draw the attention of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (HRC) to what it calls “voter-suppression” measures.

In September, a NAACP delegation visited the HRC in Geneva, urging the body to investigate “racially-discriminatory election laws” in the U.S., with a particular focus on those affecting people with felony convictions. The delegation said the HRC should then make recommendations to the U.S., aimed at restoring the political and voting rights of all citizens.

A NAACP delegation also visited the HRC last March, when Jealous addressed the council on voter-ID and other laws. Among his audience were representatives of countries whose citizens have long been denied a free vote, including Cuba, China and Saudi Arabia.

‘Not free’

Each year the Washington-based Freedom House evaluates political rights and civil liberties in the nations of the world, and then ranks them as “free,” “not free” or “partly free.”

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, has been evaluated as “not free” every year since 1995.

Freedom House’s 2012 report notes that Kazakhstan’s 71 year-old president “won a new five-year term in an April 2011 snap election, reportedly receiving 96 percent of the vote. Many potential challengers had been disqualified or boycotted the election, leaving three mostly symbolic opponents.”

“Kazakhstan is not an electoral democracy,” it says. “The constitution grants the president considerable control over the legislature, the judiciary, and local governments. Under the current constitutional rules, President Nursultan Nazarbayev may serve an indefinite number of five-year terms.”

Kazakhstan is providing three of the 44 OSCE observers who will monitor the U.S. elections.

While Kazakhstan received Freedom House’s second worst score (six out of a possible seven) for political rights and third worst score (five out of a possible seven) for civil liberties, Belarus ranked even worse in 2012, getting a seven for political rights and a six for civil liberties.

Situated between Russia and Poland, former Soviet republic Belarus is sometimes dubbed “Europe’s last dictatorship.”

“Public protests following the deeply flawed December 19, 2010, presidential election led incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claimed to have won a new term, to orchestrate an extensive crackdown on all forms of dissent,” Freedom House says. “Most visibly, three former presidential candidates received prison terms of five years or more for their roles in the demonstrations.”

Belarus is providing one of the 44 OSCE observers who will monitor the U.S. elections, as are “not free” Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

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