The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Does this officially make us a banana republic? The United States has invited observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor this Presidential elections.

There's a lot of context to this that makes it less sinister than it might seem. The U.S. is a member of OSCE, and has agreed to participate in exchanges of observing teams among all member countries. OSCE still has to determine whether or not it wants to do this (although I'd be surprised if it declined). Similar missions observed midterm and state elections in 2002 and 2003. Finally, the observers won't be able to do anything but strictly observe the process, and then offer recommendations (if any) afterward.

Still, the very idea of a U.S. national election being observed raised the hackles of the usual knee-jerk suspects:
The letters drew outrage from many Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives. They promptly attached an amendment to the 2005 foreign-aid bill banning the use of any of that money to finance UN monitoring of the election.

"For over 200 years, this nation has conducted elections fairly and impartially, ensuring that each person's vote will count," said Rep. Stephen Buyer during debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. "Imagine going to your polling place on the morning of November 2 and seeing blue-helmeted foreigners inside your local library, school or fire station."
Those blue-helmeted furriners will probably be accompanied by black CIA helicopters, too.

Naturally, it's hard to separate this from how the 2000 election went. Having international observers around during a Presidential contest for the first time implies that the last election wasn't clean, even with all sane voices acknowledging that it (mostly) was. The usual application of observers is in unstable polities where corruption is expected, so bringing them here paints the United States with that same brush. If nothing else, it's galling to national pride, especially that of the world's remaining superpower. I recall that while the 2000 fiasco was being sorted out, Cuba offered to send a team of election observers to help Florida count the votes; the message sent with that offer was unmistakable.

It would be a neat trick to spin this in a positive way to the public. The very phrase "election observers" conjures up Third World countries and 2000, and the non-active nature of the mission would be unconvincing to most. I'm wondering if the image of UN soldiers at polling stations would be an enticement or deterrent for the average voter.