Observing the Observers

by Nathan Hamm on 11/8/2004 · 2 comments

The State Department, in its infinite wisdom, invited a delegation of OSCE election observers for this year’s presidential election. I really don’t have too many problems with Norwegians, the British, etc. observing our elections, but as you may have heard, the delegation included leading lights of electoral democracy such as Russia and Kazakhstan.

The Weekly Standard sent Matt Labash to accompany the Kazakhs, a Romanian, and a Norwegian. Hilarity ensues. Read the whole thing. Here is but a taste.

So Bjørn, the Romanians, the Kazakhs, and I headed to Raleigh’s St. Raphael Catholic Church to watch people vote. A great furor has swept the European media over the fact that many OSCE delegations weren’t given the full run of U.S. polling stations, since state law tends to be persnickety about who can approach the voting machines. But North Carolina’s sunny election workers seem flattered they’re here. We watch people vote for about 45 minutes, and everything is copacetic. Bjørn hangs out at a Kids Vote table, where a middle-schooler cracks open the phony ballot box to reveal that John Kerry is leading George Bush two-to-nothing. It’s the only tampering we spot. Meanwhile, George buttonholes me, telling me we have to leave, since the Stans are creeping people out by videotaping them, perhaps for souvenirs. The OSCE delegation, it seems, provides the state’s only example of voter intimidation.


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 2 comments }

Andy November 8, 2004 at 8:36 pm

Funny. It makes you wonder though, just how useful OSCE, US, UN, etc. monitors are in other parts of the world.

On a more serious note though, I can’t really see anything too negative about OSCE observers in the US. (Especially as they were invited by the State Department). They may put noses out of joint, but no democracy, American, British, Russian or Kazakh is perfect, and fraud exists in all of these states’ elections. The simple presence of observers, domestic or foreign, is likely to deter at least some of the most blatant attempts at fraud. It’s just one extra layer of defence of democracy.

Nathan November 9, 2004 at 10:34 am

To make matters worse, the OSCE is probably the best elections monitor in the world. I just think it’s a bizarre practice to put on this charade that all the members have equal qualifications for this kind of thing. I mean, shouldn’t a country have to have had a pretty fair election to be out passing judgment.

The US is peculiar though, and the story kind of points that out. In the realm of elections, the County Election Commissions can tell the State Department to go to hell. So, if some weird Kazakh dudes are getting too close, they can be carted away. Also, I don’t know how you guys run your elections, but in my ward alone (21 on this map) there are 45 divisions/polling stations. And, we have a ton of wards in the city. Reproduce the situation across the country and it’s tough for international observers to play anything but a cosmetic role. They can make general observations, but they’re not gonna catch fraud like the hordes of lawyers that were prowling around on election day (or like groups such as The Committee of Seventy who monitor every election in town).

It is nice that having them here shut up some of the more frothing members of the polity.

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